Augusta Boxing Club to stay put

Benefactor steps in to keep club at Walton Way location
NABO flyweight champion Ray Whitfield (right), seen sparring with Justin DeLoach last year, will become the new Augusta Boxing Club director. He is replacing club founder Tom Moraetes, who is retiring.

Vacationing in St. Louis, Ray Whitfield received a phone call from a local boxer. He thought it was a prank, telling the young fighter to "stop playing."

 

Then, Augusta Boxing Club director Tom Moraetes delivered the news by cell phone, a jab right to Whitfield's stomach. Three months ago, Augusta-Richmond County restructured its government, a plan that stripped the boxing club of its funding.

The youngster told Whitfield he didn't know what he was going to do.

"It kind of just broke my heart," he said. "I told him I'll figure it out."

Whitfield, the 29-year-old NABO flyweight champion, and fellow club member Pierre Thompkins helped saved the day. At a Thursday morning news conference, officials announced the club found a financial backer in Francois Leger, owner of FPL Food LLC, a local beef processing facility.

Leger will keep the boxing club at its current Walton Way location. The Augusta-Richmond County plan had the club moving to May Park -- Whitfield said that plan would've killed the boxing organization.

Leger had a conflict and could not attend the news conference. Steve Hixon, marketing director for FBL Food, wouldn't specify the financial commitment, but he did say this is a long-term deal.

"He wanted to make sure the club maintained its current location and ensured that the youths had a place to grow," Hixon said. "He wanted to help the community."

Moraetes, who started the club out of a garage in 1974, is retiring and will become a consultant. Whitfield will become the new boxing club director.

"He's ready to assume his life calling," Moraetes said. "I won't be too far away."

Moraetes said he's been grooming Whitfield for the job for five years. The 112-pound Whitfield, who's seeking another bout after 15 months of inactivity, has been a member of the club since age 11.

"It's like my second home," he said. "This is my passion, my love."

Whitfield said he's optimistic of the future of the organization, which has about 100 members.

He said Leger's financial backing will let everyone know the club, which has produced the likes of Whitfield, Frank Durst and three-time world champion Vernon Forrest, is alive and well.

"He says he's going to stand by us 100 percent," Whitfield said. "The future is bright for the boxing club."

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