STRATFORD – Ahead of the inaugural Stratford Night Boxing Festival, leaders of the Chick Rosnick Boxing Club reflected on their original mission – offering at-risk children an alternative to violence, bullying and gang culture.
Standing beside a regulation-sized ring in the Stratford-based club, nonprofit president and attorney Harold Rosnick pointed to a photo of his deceased father, Hyman “Chick” Rosnick, a lifelong athletic coach and boxing enthusiast. With the help of boxing coach Martin Chisholm, Rosnick said he has kept his father’s legacy intact and transformed local children into national champions.
The nonprofit uses the motto, “Guns Down, Gloves Up,” to encourage struggling children to channel their aggression into boxing.
“We focus on those that have been bullied and those that are doing the bullying,” Rosnick said. “We want to develop the same attributes in both because with self-confidence and commitment, you don’t have to bully. With self-confidence and commitment and training and goals, you don’t have to end up in a gang.”
The boxing club will hold its first outdoor festival on Penders Field in Stratford on Saturday, featuring boxers from Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Brianna Alers, a 17-year-old national champion who will be fighting Saturday, is a perfect example of how the boxing club instills confidence in children who need it most, Rosnick said.
Alers was often taunted by her classmates in middle school, he explained. Looking to defend herself, Alers trained at the Stratford boxing club.
Last month, Alers won the national boxing Junior Olympics in the female division, adding to her collection of belts from state, regional and national competitions.
“This young lady who refused to be bullied, she’s now two times national, and Congress recognized her,” said Chisholm, holding a letter from U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., offering her congratulations to Alers.
As a longtime boxer, Chisholm said he operates the club with “vigorous commitment and determination” because he relates deeply to its mission. Growing up in the Bronx, New York, he explained he was often bullied by his peers because his mother was white and his father was not present in his life.
“That was a problem within my community. My upbringing was nothing but African American and Spanish,” he said. “So I had a very difficult time.”
Chisholm said his mother enrolled him in boxing camp at 10 years old, giving him courage to stand up to bullies. He has committed to boxing and martial arts since, competing and coaching in the Marine Corps and training state police as a tactical self-defense coordinator.
Chisholm’s sons, Joseph and Jawad, also work as trainers at the boxing club and plan to compete at the Saturday festival.
“What Mr. Rosnick has allowed me to do is also incorporate my sons, because I taught them from scratch,” Chisholm said.
Similar to Chisholm’s children, Rosnick said he inherited a long-lasting passion for boxing from his father. Glancing at the many medals, trophies and belts lining the walls of the club, Rosnick recalled his father’s commitment to athletics.
Rosnick said his father emigrated from Poland to Massachusetts in 1912, and later graduated with a master’s degree in physical education before joining the Army as a drill sergeant during World War II.
After the war, his father served nearly 40 years as director of health and physical education at the Bridgeport Jewish Community Center, where he trained children using a program he crafted for his graduate school thesis.
“Boxing was always a part of the program,” Rosnick said. “He taught his sons how to box and fight, and I grew up with athletics.”
In 1974, Bridgeport named the day of his father’s retirement “Chick Rosnick Day.” And over 40 years later, Rosnick and his son Michael created the club in his memory.
On Saturday, the club will host 18 amateur fights at the Stratford High School football stadium. The event will feature several food trucks, and local mayors, superintendents and police officers will be in attendance.
Rosnick thanked Stratford and Bridgeport officials for supporting the club’s mission and helping to plan the festival.
“It’s the first outdoor boxing show we’ve done,” he said. “They’ve all been nothing but tremendous with us and have encouraged us, and we’re very grateful to them.”