Ringside for Youth has officially retired as the undefeated and undisputed heavyweight champion, earning its title after helping so many kids in our community.
Over the course of its 25 years, the popular boxing gala has cumulatively raised more than $3.5 million for the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa.
It returned for its final time Thursday to the Shaw Centre, filling the place with business leaders and creating a memorable ‘fight night’ full of philanthropy and fun. The evening featured "Sugar" Shane Mosley, a former American professional boxer, as this year’s celebrity guest.
Some 1,200 guests dined in the centre’s Canada Hall while surrounded by banners with the names of all the celebrity boxers from years past. It’s no wonder the evening took some nostalgic turns; a quarter of a century is a long time. We're talking about an era when Jean Chrétien was in his first term as prime minister and when the Ottawa Senators were still a new team, with Alexei Yashin as their top scorer.
“Tonight, we wrap up Ringside after 25 incredible, incredible years,” event founder Steve Gallant, first vice-president and investment adviser with CIBC Wood Gundy, said while addressing the crowd from the boxing ring. “There’s not one Canadian city that’s had this many boxing celebrities in their town. It’s been beautiful.”
The Ringside Celebrity Guests have been world champions of the boxing world. Andre Ward, Joe Calzaghe, Thomas "Hitman" Hearns, Roy Jones Jr., Sugar Ray Leonard, Michael Spinks, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Smokin’ Joe Frazier, Buster Douglas, Irish Mickey Ward, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Angelo Dundee, Sean O’Grady, Larry Holmes, Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, Roberto Duran, Jake LaMotta, Ernie Shavers, Gerry Cooney, Ken Norton, Aaron Pryor, Scotty "Bulldog" Olson and five-time Canadian heavyweight champion George Chuvalo have all been part of Ringside.
Gallant spoke about the kids at the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa, and how they’re often labelled by society as "at-risk youth" or "disadvantaged youth."
“We at Ringside, we call them ‘youth.' We call them youth who deserve to enjoy the benefits that all of our children enjoy,” he said of the free weekend and after-school clubs, recreational, music and athletic programs offered by the non-profit organization at its seven clubhouses in Ottawa and summer camp. It serves 4,500 local children each year.
"These kids have tremendous potential for greatness."
Steve Gallant — founder of Ringside for Youth
"The kids have tremendous potential for greatness," said Gallant, who has met alumni who've grown up and gone into professions such as policing, law and accounting.
CIBC and its full-service investment firm, CIBC Wood Gundy, has been in Ringside’s corner since the beginning. Their senior leadership climbed into the ring Thursday to donate $100,000 to the BGCO in honour of Gallant and the good work he’s done in the community.
BGCO also announced its creation of a Ringside for Youth and Steve Gallant Scholarship to keep the memory of the volunteers' great work alive. The scholarship will be handed out annually to a deserving youth from the club, said board chair and Ottawa restaurateur Stephen Beckta, who’s a proud alumnus of the former BGCO clubhouse in Centretown.
To further honour the enduring fundraiser and its founder, a call-out was made by Beckta for $5,000 donations to go to the BGCO, as a whole, for programming. Community leader and longtime supporters Darcy Walsh (Edelman), BGCO board member Mike Wilson (1251 Capital Group), Ringside committee member Janet Gallant, BGCO board members Meredithe Rechan and Roberto Campagna (Roca Homes), siblings Liza and Michael Mrak (Mark Motors), BGCO board member Gary Zed and Mike McGahan (CLV Group) were among those to quickly respond.
A total of $55,000 was raised just from that special call-out.
Attendees included Tomlinson Group of Companies executive vice-president and co-owner Cindy Tomlinson Keon, whose family made a $1-million donation toward the major renovation of the BGCO clubhouse, a former firehall located on Prince of Wales Drive. It's now called the Tomlinson Family Foundation Clubhouse.
Former Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson was back as one of the presenting sponsors.
The evening also featured live music by The Cooper Brothers. Band members Dick Cooper and Brian Cooper have been involved since the beginning with Ringside. They're members of the organizing committee, which has been chaired in recent years by Jeff O'Reilly, general manager of D'Arcy McGee's.
Business lawyer Debbie Weinstein, a partner at LaBarge Weinstein LLP, has never missed a Ringside. She first caught wind of it through JetForm co-founder Tom Hicks, who’s been involved with the fundraiser since the start.
“The first time I went, I told my husband I was going to be back at 10 o’clock that night. I got home at four in the morning,” she told OBJ.social.
“It’s got a lot of bang for the buck. It’s got great entertainment, great networking and a great cause.”
There’s one more thing that Weinstein loves about the event. “I can also smoke cigars.”
Not inside the building, of course.
After dinner, guests watched a series of fights, involving amateur boxers from Ottawa’s Beaver Boxing Club and from clubs in Mexico, Puerto Rico, New York and Montreal. The fighters emerged on stage, from a plume of smoke and darkness, and strode toward the ring, past the pom-pom-shaking Ottawa Redblacks cheer and dance team, surrounded by powerful music and flashing lights.
The evening also took a moment to remember the 75th anniversary of D-Day, when Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy in Nazi-occupied France during World War II on June 6, 1944.
Ringside has enjoyed a loyal following over the years, from retired American heavyweight boxer Gerry Cooney as the Ringside for Youth ambassador, to comic and actor Angelo Tsarouchas as emcee, to guest announcer Rod Smith from TSN.
Smith, who grew up in Nepean, told his audience with great warmth: “I wish there was a championship belt that would wrap around all of you for everything that you’ve done for the Ottawa Boys and Girls Club. To the many people who have contributed over the years, who have volunteered their time to make this event happen, and to make this event the success it’s been, I applaud you and I thank you.”