Aug. 11—Boxing is more than a sport to Maximiliano Baez III. Indeed, the Muhlenberg grad said that training at Star City Boxing has kept him off the streets and improved the 18-year-old's life.
"I definitely fell in love with the sport of boxing; it kept me off the streets," Baez said. "Boxing in general definitely just changed my whole life. Before I was boxing, I was always in the streets and not around the best type of people; not doing what was right at all.
"When I started coming to boxing, at first, it was a little rocky and I was just a kid coming in here and hitting the bag for fun. But then, you know, I started getting these fights and I started watching other people and they looked cool. And I was like, 'All right, I want to get better with this'."
Baez began boxing in 2017 and has fought in several tournaments since he started as just a kid hitting the bag for fun. Most recently, Baez competed in the National Junior Olympics alongside boxer Eric Martinez, who also trains at Star City, which is located at 470 Schuylkill Ave. in Reading.
After fighting in the "Peace & Gloves" event on Saturday, Baez will travel to Tulsa, Okla., with his uncle and owner of Star City Boxing, Alex Betances, to fight in the 2022 National Golden Gloves competition. His appearance at the National Golden Gloves will mark his first fight against other adults in the 18-40-year-old range as he will compete in the 112-pound-and-under weight class.
"I've fought in about six or seven tournaments," Baez said. "I've won three of them, (one being) Hometown Heroes in West Virginia. I fought in the Junior Olympics and I fought two times at the USA Nationals. Unfortunately, I came up short. But even with me coming up short. It definitely gave me great experience. It gave me a lot of knowledge to go by these past couple of years.
"This will be my first fight at the elite level (18- to 40-years-old). So I'm definitely excited for that because I'm getting a little bit older so now I got to get my mind right. You know, in the sport of boxing your mindset is the most important thing."
Baez seems to have a good head on his shoulders as he talks about how Star City Boxing has helped him grow as a person and an athlete.
On Wednesday, Reading Mayor Eddie Moran spoke to boxers at Star City about the goal of uniting the Reading community through amateur boxing. Baez, a personification of the idea that sport can bring people together in a wholesome way, noted that the welcoming environment at Star City is palpable for all who enter.
"Star City is definitely a safe haven," Baez said. "You come here, you're going to feel welcome. You're going to feel loved. We're going to show support to you. There's been a couple of kids that have come here and boxed, and just recently and a couple years ago, some of those kids have passed away, but it kept them off the street every time they stepped in the gym.
Earlier in the year, students in Penn State Berks' "Storytelling for Social Justice" course teamed with Star City Boxing to compile stories that tell of the impact the organization has made on youth in the Reading area. The stories previously were shared at two events as part of the Berks4Peace National Youth Violence Prevention Week from April 25-30: one at Star City Boxing and the other at the "Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges" community event at Penn State Berks.
Baez, a contributor to the storytelling project that will be given away at the "Peace & Gloves" event Saturday, further elaborated on the beneficial impact he has seen Star City make firsthand.
"A lot of times I'll come in and see these little kids and they're always smiling and laughing and having fun," Baez said. "And, you know, they actually like it. A lot of these kids come in here, like they're strangers, and then they meet these other kids, and now they're friends. It's just one big happy family.
"It's a good thing because it's not only just the kids, but adults too. They come in here to get fit and it's like, we see them every day so we're building these bonds. We're all family. We treat each other the same."
As the "Peace & Gloves" event brings more attention to amateur boxing in Reading, Baez said he hopes that more people who may be struggling with hard times will turn to Star City as a healthy outlet.
"If there's someone out there that you know and they're going through it in life, come in here, man," Baez said. "We will make you feel welcome and push you more to a more positive side of life."