B-W Students Earn State Boxing Titles
Baldwin High’s Matt Conway and J.E. Harrison’s Shawn Cusick advance to regional section of National Silver Gloves tournament.
These aren't your typical eighth- and 10th-grade athletes. No, there are no school colors here. No varsity letters either, and no cheerleaders.
In fact, Baldwin Township's Matt Conway and Baldwin Borough's Shawn Cusick don't even practice on their school district's grounds. Yet, both recently brought state championships back to the home of the Highlanders with 119- and 106-pound Silver Gloves boxing titles, respectively.
Matt, the 119-pound 10th-grader at Baldwin High School who trains alongside Shawn at South Park Boxing Club, is competing for the last time in the ages 15-and-under National Silver Gloves Boxing tournament. This year, he plans to "win it all," meaning a national title, something that eluded him the year before.
Matt lost in his first bout at the national level in last year's Silver Gloves tournament after breezing through the state and regional levels. Should he miss out this year, he won't have another chance due to his age. But he certainly won't be done boxing.
"I wanna go pro," says Matt, ever-so-nonchalantly. After all, he is ranked No. 6 nationally at the 112-pound level by Ringside. "Maybe when I'm 19 or 20," he continues. "But the Junior Olympics would be next. [Ages] 16 and up."
Meanwhile, Shawn, the 106-pound eighth-grader at J.E. Harrison Middle School, is still 14 and will have another shot at a national title next year. Not that he plans on waiting around.
"The goal has always been to win regionals and then nationals," says Shawn. "Next year too."
Just like Matt, Shawn dreams of a pro career one day. "I would try to turn pro," says Shawn, also ranked No. 6 nationally by Ringside but at the 100-pound level. "Probably around 22 or 23. I'd wait longer to give the [traditional] Olympics a shot."
"Playing football [as Shawn does at Harrison Middle School] … everyone wants to make it as a pro, so boxing's no different."
Matt and Shawn came to South Park Boxing Club, nestled on Hundred Acres Drive near the park's many pavilions, at different times, but their reasons for joining the club are all pretty similar.
For one, it's free.
"We do all of the fundraising ourselves," says trainer Bob "Muscles" Healy, who runs the club out of a county building and charges nothing for his services. "We get kids from Peters [Township], Bethel [Park], South Park, Baldwin, Brookline. The county likes to see kids here, using the resources available."
Matt and Shawn both started their boxing careers at Carrick Community Boxing Academy but eventually moved on to South Park to join Healy, who used to train fighters in Carrick and Brookline before becoming the manager of the South Park stable.
Did Matt and Shawn choose South Park for Healy? Maybe, maybe not. But boxing circles are tight that way. One of the South Park trainers, after all, is Conway's father – dubbed "Captain" Jack Conway because of his penchant for camouflage hats. Two of "Captain" Jack's other sons (Matt's brothers) also box for South Park.
Indeed, Matt and Shawn both came to boxing from family ties. Matt watched his older brothers train and fight before taking it up himself, and Shawn was introduced to the sport by his father and two uncles, both of whom fought for the legendary Brookline Boxing Club alongside Healy.
Matt and Shawn both won their state Silver Gloves titles this year in a show at the Carrick club on Dec. 11. Matt defeated a challenger from the famous Joe Hand Boxing Gym near Philadelphia, and Shawn bested a fighter from the Allentown area.
The numbers might be larger in the eastern part of the state for fighters, but Healy is quick to point out that Pittsburgh's pugilists have shown that they can compete with the easterners, especially recently, something that he suggests has to do with the experience that his fighters get at the South Park club, not to mention top-notch training.
"It's not just me. Jack [Conway] is here, and Tony Tarentino has been around a long time," says Healy.
Tarentino, who works a lot with Shawn, was a renowned fighter and champion in the 1940s and '50s.
"We've helped Pittsburgh compete with and keep up with the kids from Philadelphia," says Healy, himself a Baldwin Township resident. "Matt was an Ohio State Fair champion this summer, and Shawn won a silver medal there. We fight up in competition.
"[Our guys] aren't underdogs. Shawn and Matt have faced top-notch competition for a couple of years now. At regionals … they belong there. They won't be nervous competing against other tough kids. They're used to it."
Should all go well, Matt and Shawn will get even more experience soon. Next up is the regional section of the Silver Gloves tournament, to be held from Jan. 15-17 in Terre Haute, Ind.
Should one of them advance, the club (and Baldwin) will be represented at the national championships in Kansas City, Mo., in February.
Disclaimer: Bob Healy is the author's father.