Retired cop and family help kids learn life's lessons in gym, not on street

A lone fighter hammered away at a heavy bag while hip-hop floated and feinted on the cool air inside Barry's Boxing gym.

It was a quiet Friday morning. The ring was empty, the weight and rowing equipment still. Not even the flat screen was yet replaying some of the great matches in the history of the fight game.

Pat Barry's place wasn't this way often, not with 460 young people signed up for the amateur boxing program run by the veteran Metro cop and his family. I don't know if Barry can sing, but he has more Dawns than Tony Orlando. He operates the immaculately kept gym with his wife, Dawn, and daughter, Dawn, and his son-in-law, the ex-featherweight contender Augie Sanchez.

The place is so neat and clean it's a little scary but then I was raised around Johnny Tocco's Ringside Gym, where the air smelled like Dempsey's sweat socks and the roaches were the size of dachshunds. Where Barry's Boxing is spit-shined, Johnny's gym was mostly just expectoration.

But it was at Tocco's gym that Barry was introduced to Las Vegas in 1976 as a junior middleweight from New York. Tocco helped Barry get a union bartender's job at the Stardust, and that led to a chance to join the police department, where he recently retired after 30 years, 15 spent working the juvenile detail and meeting troubled young people.

Through the years at various locations, an army of boys and some girls has come through the front door seeking a place to train. In the process, the ones who stick with it find a fighting family. Pat and Augie were accomplished pros, and I wouldn't mess with either of the Dawns; but Barry's Boxing isn't really about developing future prizefighters and world champions. It's about developing skill and stamina, and building character.

Before I get too carried away with the Father Flanagan imagery, let's get something straight: Boxing doesn't build character. People with character who teach boxing do that.

Don't take my word for it. Ask Andres Chippares. He'll tell you how mama Dawn, a retired corrections officer, persuaded him to stay in school and get his high school diploma. He's now taking college courses and working for a major bank.

And there are a couple of Metro cops who as teenagers spent hundreds of hours at the gym. Their lives and career choices were influenced by the Barry family.

These days, five members of the gym receive financial assistance for trade school and college courses with help from the Barrys, USA Boxing, and the Golden Gloves.

If that doesn't sound impressive, remember that many of the kids at the nonprofit gym come from tough neighborhoods and even tougher economic realities. There are a million ways to fail when you're living a rent check from the street, but the gym located smack in an industrial area helps build the skills essential for success.

"The boxing's not the answer for everyone," Barry says. "But even if they're not going to stay involved with boxing, the discipline that's instilled in boxing helps in other areas of their life. That's really what is so beneficial."

Barry, now 55, remembers how working out with his dad in the gym filled his days and inspired him to train harder. It also kept him off street corners where he'd find nothing but trouble.

After spending most of his adult life watching youngsters at difficult crossroads, Barry has gained an essential sense of what can make the difference: time and the right kind of attention.

"The big thing I've seen over the years as a detective, the lack of supervision aspect, a lot of it is just our economy," he says. "Tough times do necessitate both parents to get out there working to make a living. While they're trying to make a better life for their children, they're really cheating their kids out of a better life, because they're not getting that one-on-one attention from mom and dad. So where do they go for that? Back to the streets, back to their friends."

While Barry is retiring from Metro, his work at the gym continues.

Thanks to Pat Barry and his boxing family, hundreds of valley young people have a fighting chance, and there's always someone in their corner.

John L. Smith's column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at