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New club brings boxing to White City

WHITE CITY -- For high-risk youngsters like Tino Ledesma, the newly formed Rogue Valley Cougars boxing club offers an alternative to getting into trouble.

And trouble has been no stranger to the 15-year-old South Medford High ninth grader, who has found himself on the wrong side of the law too often in his young life.

Ledesma is one of a handful of former Bulldog Boxing Club members that have followed trainer Wes Wambold to the new club located in a mini warehouse in the Dutton Industrial Park, just east of the Veterans Administration Domiciliary.

Wambold and Joe Pedrojetti co-founded Medford's Bulldog Boxing Club in November 1996. After 15 months with the successful Bulldog Club, the 67-year-old Wambold had an amicable split with the organization earlier this year.

There were some differences with ideas in training, explains Wambold. You can't have three or four people deciding these things.

Pedrojetti understands Wambold's reason for departing. He speculates that having two clubs in the region might eventually be a healthy situation.

If we truly get more kids involved that would be great, said Pedrojetti. There could be some positive things.

When Wambold quit the Bulldog Club, he wasn't ready to end a 47-year involvement with boxing. So he took on another challenge. After assessing where to locate a new club, he decided on White City.

Basically I realized we touched a lot of kids' lives in Medford and there is a great need out here, says Wambold, who has over 2,000 wins in his long career as a trainer. This is an area that needs activities for young adults.

The gym hadn't officially opened last week, but the converted warehouse was full of boxers. While 10-year-old Manuel Gonzalez Jr., was peppering a speed bag along one wall of the gym, his older brother Homero, 15, was pounding one of five heavy bags a few feet away. There were boxers sparring in one of two 12-by-12-foot boxing rings, and others were shadow boxing under the tutelage of Wambold and coaches Bill Hoag, Manuel Gonzalez Sr. and Jose Cabrera Sr.

Wambold, a retired Navy veteran, is obviously in his element at the gym. He demonstrates a comfortable rapport with the youngsters. In between signing up newcomers and doing an interview, he shouted instructions to the boxers.

Wambold, with help from Hoag and others, raised the equivalent of about $15,000 to open the club. Much of the materials and labor to convert the 25-by-65-foot warehouse into a boxing gym was donated by businesses.

Hoag knew Wambold through the Bulldog Club, and the semi-retired owner of a Medford roofing company decided to assist with the project.

It's neat to see something like this get started from scratch, says Hoag. It keeps a lot of kids off the streets.

Ledesma's mother, Teresa Linton, shares that sentiment.

Tino has seen the best and worst of both sides, says Linton. This is something very positive. It's something he likes, so it helps give him a focus. He wants to be a professional, so he has a goal. And Wes has laid down the law.

The grandfatherly Wambold is not only a mentor to the youngsters, but sort of a spiritual adviser. He's stern, but the young boxers sense his sincerity.

Linton, who lives in White City, says Wambold is the reason Ledesma switched clubs: It had very little to do with the location. Tino and Wes have a bond.

Wambold supervises two training sessions five days a week. The beginners start at 4 p.m. followed by the more experienced boxers.

The cost to join is $35, which covers a boxing license, hand wraps and a mouthpiece. Dues are $20 a month. They drop to $15 after one fight and $10 after two. For more information, call 826-7260.

There's nobody that's not going to be able to come in here, says Wambold. We'll make exceptions according to need. The important thing is helping these kids.

Tino Ledesma can attest to that.

Manuel Gonzalez Jr., 10, is one of the young boxers in the newly formed Rogue Valley Cougars club in White City. - Photo by Bob Pennell