The Washington Times - February 12, 2009, 02:38PM

Washington has a reputation outside the beltway as a can’t-do town, full of bureaucrats and bloated professionals that stare at their navels and line their pockets.

Every day, though, inside that beltway, miracles happen, because what you actually within those boundaries is a concentration of remarkably intelligent and caring people who come up with great idea and then carry them out. I saw the evidence of that Saturday night in a ballroom at the Washington Westin Hotel, where a group of kids from the tough neighborhoods of Belfast, Ireland, came to Washington to fight local kids in an amateur boxing tournament with the goal of spreading peace and understanding.

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This wasn’t accomplished by some government-funded agency or some Fortune 500 corporation. This was put together by a group of guys who decided several years ago they wanted to help out a friend of theirs. Manny Quinn, whose father Charles runs a boxing club in Belfast, wanted to help his father raise money for a gym there, in one of the toughest neighborhoods in what used to be a war zone. So he approached some friends about raising money for a trip to bring a group of kids over here to fight some D.C. amateur fighters. They formed the Belfast-Beltway Boxing Classic, and last year their inaugural event was a success, raising thousands of dollars for equipment for local youth boxing clubs here and in Belfast.

So they did it again last Saturday, and though bad weather had nearly prevented the Irish kids from making the trip, it came together for another successful event and a unique learning experience for local amateur fighters as well as the Belfast lads.

“It’s good for our kids to meet these kids and learn about people from other places,” said coach Gary Russell from the Keystone Boxing Gym in Marlow Heights. “The kids laugh at the way they talk, but they have a lot in common, and boxing brings them together.”

The Belfast-Beltway boxing group has bigger plans, though, Sometime this year, they want to bring a group of local kids over to Belfast for the same experience and exposure. “Our goal is to take group of kids from here over to Belfast and have a tournament there, and show some of these kids Belfast and expose to them the issues that the Belfast kids deal with,” said John O’ Neill one of the organizers.

Barbara McBride of the “Diamonds in the Rough” boxing club in Suitland, said “any time you can meet different kids from different nationalities and countries, it is a great experience. Our kids went up and thanked the kids for coming and giving them the opportunity.”

If the local kids do make the trip to Belfast later this year, they will see nothing short of a miracle. Five years ago, Charles Quinn and others started a boxing club in the tough neighborhood of Ardoyne, where kids were killing each other and themselves after years of strife between Protestants and Catholics. Now they have more than 150 kids from both sides working out and working together in the same gym.

“I certainly didn’t think that would happen in my lifetime,” said Brendan Lowe, who came over as a referee with the Irish club. “I’ve lived through the troubles in Belfast. I didn’t think I would see Catholic and Protestants kids working together in a gym, especially where this gym is. You couldn’t have envisioned this happening We had to cross over a road called The Crumbling Road to get to our boxing club. It is only in the last couple of years we have been able to do that. “It’s not all easy,” Lowe said. “There is still a lot of bitterness among people. There were a lot of deaths in this area of Belfast we are talking about. Now we are all over here in Washington meeting kids from America. It is a great thing.”

“Now they are doing their fighting in the ring,” said Eanes Keenan, one of the Irish coaches.

For more information about these efforts by this group of local guys with their hearts and pocketbooks in the right place, go to www.beltwayboxingclassic.org.

Radio

I will be on The Sports Reporters on ESPN 980 AM today (Thursday) and Monday, Feb. 16, from 5 to 7 p.m.

To learn more about Thom Loverro, go to www.thomloverro.com