Strength in the community

Dominique Collette helps her son Giovanni Serrano, 7, punch an uppercut bag.

Jack Costello took an unusual route to the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame. In many ways, unfulfilled potential and shattered dreams defined his half-century in the sport as much as his successes as a fighter and trainer did.

The Port Richmond native and longtime Tacony resident was on the rise in the amateur ranks when the Korean War broke out and he was drafted into military service. After the war, Costello could’ve gone pro but family life beckoned.

“Boxing was his world, but so was his family,” said Tim Costello, one of Jack’s 10 children. “He wanted to go pro but got married and mom wasn’t having that.”

So the elder Costello channeled his efforts into training other fighters in the Harrowgate and later the New Cambria clubs. He dreamt of opening his own gym, the Northeast’s first real boxing club, but never saw that day.

“He died before he could do it,” Tim Costello said.

Jack Costello was just 60 when he passed away from heart failure in 1990. But his name lives on in his community at the Jack Costello Boxing Gym, which his kids helped open in 1996 and still operate inside the former Tacony Savings Fund building at Longshore Avenue and Tulip Street.

The modest non-profit operation is ideal for urban kids and young adults, offering them physical training, mental development and emotional support for a small monthly membership fee. In support of that mission, the gym will hold its annual fundraiser dinner on Friday, April 17, at the Waterfall Room of Local 690, 2791 Southampton Road. Doors open at 8 p.m. Admission costs $35.

“The main thing is to get the kids off the street,” said Tim Costello, who runs the gym with his brother Pat and sister Carolyn. “We want to see them win fights and win championships, but the main thing is we want them to be good citizens. We have all different kinds in here and we want them to be friends. One thing I tell them every day is to hug their moms because they’ll wish they did when they get older.”

The roster of boxers runs the gamut from recreational non-competitive types to the champions in waiting, who show up religiously four evenings a week for two-hour sessions. The gym opens from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

“Some work out a little bit then roll out, but I don’t mind that because they’re not going to fight (competitively),” Tim Costello said. “As long as they’re not in the street.”

Kids are asked to pay $10 a month. Some have the money. Others don’t.

“As long as they can get here, they can work out,” Tim Costello said.

The facility is open to amateurs in their 20s and 30s, too. The operators and trainers don’t collect a dime for their investment of time and expertise. All are volunteers, including certified trainers Ernest Brunson, Joe Jesus, Ramon Almeda, Mike Elliott and James “June” Ryan.

Anywhere from 25 to 40 young people work out there regularly.

“We see kids in the community who are having some trouble and we try to get them in, teach them some order, discipline and respect,” Elliott said. “We’re trying to get them to see what it takes to get in shape and what it takes to stay in shape.”

Kids like Elijah Vines.

“I liked to fight. I liked it a lot. I was street fighting,” said Vines, a 19-year-old originally from New York who now lives in Somerton. “I’m more disciplined, more humble (now). I don’t go around starting stuff. I’m dedicated to the sport.”

Eddie Nieves, 16, has a similar past.

“I came because I like to fight and it’s a way to fight and not get locked up,” Nieves, of Mayfair, said. “It’s changed my body and I focus more on school now. And I don’t yell at my parents no more. It’s like a family here and you can talk to people. You tell them what you’re going through and they tell you what you’ve been through.”

Allisha Ryan, 20, dreams of riding the wave of women’s professional boxing. She first stepped into a gym at age 9, drifted from the sport and returned a few months ago at the Costello gym with a new motivation.

“Ultimately I want to go pro. Now I’m preparing for amateur fights,” Ryan said. “I think a female can do as much as a boy with boxing, football, basketball, anything.”

The Costello gym set-up is modest but charming in a Philly neighborhood joint kind of way. After its early days as a bank in the old Henry Disston Estate, the three-story Victorian building served many purposes, including a textile factory during Tim Costello’s youth. His family lived directly across Longshore Avenue from the site. Relatives still own their old twin home.

“When I was a kid, it was a sweatshop and I used to work here. They had 50 (sewing) machines on each floor,” Tim Costello said.

Today, the gym is on the third level. There is a small office, a bathroom and a small cluster of lockers at the front of the room and an elevated ring at the rear. Heavy bags and speed bags hang from the underside of the pitched wooden roof.

Floorboards creak under the weight of the boxers as they skip rope, shadow box and pound the bags. In the ring, another fighter’s leather gloves smack the mitts of his trainer.

These are the tools of the trade and the primary reason why the Jack Costello Boxing Gym is raising money.

“It mainly covers expenses and equipment for the kids,” Tim Costello said of the benefit dinner. “The stuff isn’t cheap. This way, the kids have the right gear to train with.” ••

The $35 admission cost includes a buffet, open bar and DJ entertainment. There will be basket raffles and auctions. For information about the event or the gym, call 215–332–3553, Monday to Thursday, after 5 p.m.

Travis Charles, 17, trains at the Jack Costello Boxing Gym in Tacony. In support of its mission to offer training for a small monthly fee, the local gym will hold its annual fundraising dinner on April 17.

Allisha Ryan, 20, trains at the Jack Costello Boxing Gym in Tacony. In support of its mission to offer training for a small monthly fee, the local gym will hold its annual fundraising dinner on April 17.

Joshua Moore, 11, trains at the Jack Costello Boxing Gym in Tacony. In support of its mission to offer training for a small monthly fee, the local gym will hold its annual fundraising dinner on April 17.

Practice makes perfect: Sadoc Ladouceur, 15, throws a jab while training at Jack Costello Boxing Gym. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS