Boxing organization giving college scholarships

BARRY WILNER (AP Sports Writer)
The Associated Press

Rebecca Maine was a heroin addict as a teenager. At times, she didn't see living very long as a viable option.

Now, Maine is a student at the Penn State campus in DuBois and has Olympic aspirations as a boxer.

Considering how far she has come since first trying heroin at age 16 to ''going on to using it with more dangerous means'' until she was 21, counting out Maine would seem foolhardy.

Maine, now 27, basically credits boxing for saving her life.

''I used heroin for quite some time, and when I re-established my relationship with my mom, Louise, her boyfriend at the time was a ringside doctor,'' Maine said. ''They kind of collectively suggested I should try out boxing as a means to put all my energy toward a better life. I loved the challenge, and I never really challenged myself that way before, I never really liked sports. It was new for me, it was exciting, and I loved feeling the pain.

''I never missed a session or workout.''

Maine is able to attend college in part through a scholarship offered by the American Association for the Improvement of Boxing, a nonprofit that on Monday held its annual fundraiser, a golf outing at the Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey. The AAIB awarded 11 scholarships this year, and since 2007 has awarded nearly $300,000 in academic aid.

The organization would like to hand out more, but as a grass-roots movement, it already is having a positive effect on some youngsters who have an interest in boxing and want to continue their education.

We're not talking elite scholars, though, said Paul Vegliante, president of AAIB and the main force behind the college scholarships.

''You have to realize there are no scholarships in boxing,'' said Vegliante, whose group was begun in 1969 by Rocky Marciano and Stephen Acunto with the purpose of lobbying for improved health standards in the sport. ''I said to the board, look at all the schools that have boxing - for instance, Stanford, Michigan, Georgetown - they don't give scholarships. The main schools for competitive boxing are the four military academies, and the kids we are trying to reach aren't getting into those.

''Let's take Newark (New Jersey) and remove every ... kid with a 3.5 or 4.0, once they go away to college, they will never return to that city. They are not going back, and the city is not getting any better. So we came up with this idea where what we want to do is take the kids who don't have those GPAs and are (boxing), and we'll give the kids up to $8,000. ... We want them to go back to the community and be leaders and in business in that community. Give the kids back there something to look up to.''

Vegliante believes every youngster should, as Marlon Brando might say, get his shot, be a contender - in life, if not in the ring. He wonders why financial aid normally winds up with those elite students.

''I hope we lead the change,'' he said. ''Just don't give to the best and the brightest, who have already been blessed by God. Give to the kids who show the determination and desire and commitment, something the (young fighters) in the local gyms show.''

Showtime has been one of the AAIB's biggest boosters regarding the scholarships. Network spokesman Chris DeBlasio noted that ''Showtime and Showtime Boxing are able to make an impact with people in the industry and show some benevolence, be good stewards of the sport.''

Showtime is interested in Maine's story, particularly if she can progress toward Olympic qualification at 125 pounds. Even if she doesn't, well, her life surely has changed for the better.

Less than a decade ago, Maine was strung out daily. She worked cleaning hospital rooms, with no real prospects of college or a career.

''I finally had enough,'' Maine said. ''I honestly had many chances where I would think I hit rock bottom, but addiction is such a crazy thing. Finally, seeing how much I was hurting my mom and people I care about, and being tired of the process and losing everything, and feeling the way I did emotionally and physically.

''It's a very scary subject being depressed, but I decided I wanted to live.''

So she went cold turkey, took off two weeks from her job, spending most of the time wrapped in blankets in her living room, watching DVDs. She also stopped smoking cigarettes.

''When I could feel able to walk and talk, I went to my mom and told her: 'I am ready to get clean, I need your help.' It's with her and boxing and the drive to want to actually get clean - I have no idea how I was able to pull it off; I have so many friends who died or relapsed - I am so fortunate to be able to do it.''

Maine will fight in August at Christy Martin's tournament in Fayetteville, North Carolina. She's already won her biggest bout.

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