NEW LONDON, Conn. - If you were to wander up to the third deck of the Coast Guard Academy Alumni Center, you would find a peculiar room tucked away in the corner.
During the day, this room sits quiet. There are a few punching bags that hang from the ceiling. Old mouth guards litter the windowsills. In the center stands a humble boxing ring surrounded by uneven rows of metal folding chairs.
Everything seems suspended in time; just waiting. This unassuming, relatively small room is the heart of the Coast Guard Academy boxing club.
On the night of Feb. 1, 2013, this room was brimming with cheering cadets, fans, and friends who came to support their boxers and one special friend of the boxing club, Gil Main Sr.
Gil Main Sr. is the father of Gil Main Jr., who works as a civilian help desk technician at the academy and is the boxing club’s assistant coach. In the last four years, Gil Sr. has been a familiar face at just about every Friday Night Fight hosted by the boxing club.
Three years ago Gil Sr. was diagnosed with cancer.
“It was a terminal disease from the start,” explained Gil Jr. “He’s done remarkably well with treatments for the last three years, but right before Christmas he had some issues. I didn’t think he was going to make it through Christmas.”
In the midst of this dramatic uncertainty, Gil Sr. asked his son when the next boxing fights would be. The next scheduled fights at the academy are months away, as the cadets are busy training for regionals and nationals.
When the boxing club captains, 1/c Norberto Perez, 1/c Josh Surgeon, and 1/c Justin Maio, heard about the situation, they came up with a plan.
“Berto (Perez) came to me and Justin and told us about the problem,” explained Surgeon. “He asked what we think about doing a fight for Gil’s dad, and I thought that was awesome.”
The issue hit close to home, as both Perez and Surgeon have parents who are cancer survivors.
Within a few weeks, the Friday Night Fight 4 Life was planned and scheduled for Feb. 1.
When Gil Jr. told his father about the plan for a special fight night in his honor, he was overcome.
“He cried,” said Gil Jr. “And he’s not an outwardly emotional person. He’s old school. So for that to happen showed it really affected him. The character and humanity of these cadets is mind bending. They are just remarkable people.”
The night of the fight came and that little corner room quickly filled with friends, family and boxing fans. Gil Sr. entered and took his usual front row seat next to his son.
Before the fights began, Gil Sr. requested a chance to stand up and publicly thank the boxing club for that special night. As he entered the ring, the room fell silent.
“What I’ve found in the Coast Guard Academy – and it goes for the boxing team, and all of the people that I’ve been affiliated with in any way, including the officers right up to the Commandant – they’re quality people,” said Gil Sr. “They are a cut above. And I think that’s because they don’t just arrive at the Coast Guard Academy; they are specially chosen for their qualities. And I just think that we’re lucky, we the community here in this area, are lucky to have those people share time with us.”
As Gil Sr. went on to thank the boxing club and the academy, every face wore a smile or a tear; some wore both.
Gil Sr.’s words were followed by five thrilling bouts as cheers and whistles shook the room.
After the last fight, the boxing club captains took the ring for a few parting words.
“Gil Sr. means a lot to us,” said Maio. “He’s been a consistent familiar face at every Friday Night Fight since we were freshmen. Every Friday Night Fight, we can look at that front row over there, and we see Gil, and Gil’s dad, Gil. It just means so much to have a consistent fan, and this is the least we could do to thank him.”
The captains then presented a framed Friday Night Fight for Life poster signed by all the members of the boxing club.
Perez added “We may not be the best fighters, but we never quit. And Mr. Main embodies that spirit. That’s why we respect him so much.”
In a few short months, the boxing club captains will graduate from the academy and ship off to their respective assignments in the fleet. They will be far away from that corner room’s humble boxing ring, but it is certain these cadets will never forget the years they boxed here, and the many Friday nights they looked across the ring and saw the encouraging smile Gil Main Sr.