Peter Wylie’s name was in the newspaper, and it was a problem. It was the late 1960s, and he had taken part in an amateur boxing competition in Toronto. Wylie, a rookie police officer, hadn’t realized that cops weren’t allowed to participate in boxing, as the force feared officers might sustain injuries that would interfere with police work. He was given a warning: quit boxing or risk a firing.
“So I kind of left boxing for about four or five years, and I really missed it,” Wylie says. “And my wife told me — to her chagrin to this day, she probably should have never told me — she said, ‘if you can’t box then maybe you should start coaching.’”
Soon after that conversation, a friend of Wylie’s approached him about starting a boxing club in the Cabbagetown area. “That’s how I got involved. I thought it was a great idea for this area, but I had no idea that it would expand the way it did,” Wylie says. The friend, though, hadn’t anticipated how many unpaid hours of work it actually took to run the club. “When we realized what was involved, he left pretty quickly. And I just continued on from there.” Wylie has since run Cabbagetown Boxing Club as a volunteer for over thirty years. He is now assisted by a staff of eight experienced volunteers, who train and counsel members of the club.
Once people get involved in boxing…they are fans for life.- Peter Wylie, owner
Helping the Community
Working as a policeman in the Cabbagetown/St. Jamestown area, Wylie says he saw a lot of “rough-tough kids” with little direction. Eventually, the boxing club morphed into the full-fledged Cabbagetown Youth Centre, which it remains today, providing a number of recreational and competitive sports programs, including boxing, for youth and adults. The competitive boxing program is open to boys and girls, nine years or older.
“I thought it was a good thing because it basically kept some of these kids off the streets,” Wylie says. “Some of them went the wrong way and a lot of them went the right way. And hopefully, the youth centre helped a number of them to direct them in the right direction.”
Wylie says there are innumerable benefits to participating in programs at the youth centre, many of which are free of charge.
“There’s always a benefit to it if you’re involved in athletics,” he says. “You start to learn to practice a healthy lifestyle…once you learn those kinds of practices, then it just benefits you later on in life.”
In boxing, in particular, he says, once you feel that “sting of competition,” there’s no going back. “We call it the boxing bug. Once people get involved in boxing, especially in any kind of competition, they never leave boxing.”
John Kalbhenn started training at Cabbagetown Boxing Club as an amateur boxer, and under Peter’s guidance, made it to the 1982 Commonwealth Games and the 1984 Olympics, and was a professional lightweight Champion of Canada. Now, he’s a trainer at the club, having been around almost as long as Peter himself.
“It’s the circle of life, so to speak,” Johnny says. And even if the kids aren’t champions, he says, “you hope they learn something from you, something that will help them later in life: how to stick with things, and that if you work hard you’re going to get ahead. That’s what you want to teach them.”