School of hard knocks |

School of hard knocks

William Ferchland
Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Under the eye of Coach Simon Ruvalcaba, left, Rafael Aguirre spars at a boxing club in Carson City on Wednesday evening. A South Tahoe High student, Aguirre is learning to box as his senior project.

Simon Ruvalcaba repeatedly told the girl to “ease up” as he watched left hooks and jabs land on the face of his student.

In two three-minute rounds on a blood-splotched boxing ring one of Ruvalcaba’s boxers, Olga Del Real, was receiving a pummeling her body and mind would not soon forget.

A professional boxer fighting to keep his own career alive, Ruvalcaba has taken under his wing three South Tahoe High School seniors – two boys and a girl – who want to box for their senior project, a requirement for graduation.

In past years, seniors have learned to play a musical instrument, make a dress or learn to cook. The mandate is to learn a new skill over at least 15 hours and demonstrate it to a panel of judges. Project leader Janna Gard has recalled few instances where students chose to get into a boxing ring for their assignment.

“My hope is that they learn some boxing skills (and) they just won’t go out there and beat each other up,” Gard said. “You don’t get to be an accomplished boxer if you don’t have any discipline, work ethic and stamina,” she added.

Desire to aspire

The motivation for students Milton Montoya, Rafael Aguirre and Del Real to undergo the difficulty of learning a sport as technical as boxing is at the very least challenging and at most a test of inner fiber.

“It’s tough. It’s tough to be a fighter and that’s what they’re learning,” Ruvalcaba said.

Like the difference between a sift jab and a devasting uppercut, the motives for each of the students to step into the ring vary. Eighteen-year-old Del Real, who works two jobs, one at Chevys Fresh Mex Restaurant and the other at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe buffet, remembers watching boxing matches with her father. It was the few instances they shared time together, she said.

Aguirre’s father wanted to be a boxer but a fall off a tractor shattered his right shoulder and also his dreams to be in the ring.

Montoya simply wants to learn how to fight.

“I like watching it so I said why not try it?” Montoya said.

Training began last month for an amateur bout each fighter will undergo late April or early May. About two evening hours, usually 6 to 8 p.m., are spent by Ruvalcaba altering the mindset of the teenagers with lessons on combinations, footwork and breathing.

In the gym

At Kahle Community Center last week, Ruvalcaba led the teenagers into a workout room with two walls of mirrors and hardwood floors. Ruvalcaba coaches at the high school in sports like basketball but said “with boxing, they’re in my office.”

An easy-going trainer as good with words as he is giving a dead-set stare, Ruvalcaba joked to Del Real after she complained about the sweatiness of a boxing glove.

“I’ve got a mouthpiece you can borrow,” he told her.

The work began with the students punching air. Ruvalcaba made his demands for punches by using a number system. Odds for the right hand, evens for the left. for example, a four denoted a right uppercut. Montoya, with a mop of curly black hair, looked the most composed.

“I could put him in right now and he’d have a good chance of winning,” Ruvalcaba said.

Aguirre appeared determined to hone his newfound skills. Del Real, a girl small for her age, had trouble delivering her swings and maintaining her footwork. Ruvalcaba’s fix for her feet was keeping them at a 45-degree angle with a piece of rope tied to her ankles.

Del Real is aware she’s the only female in the small group learning a sport dominated by males.

“It kind of sucks I’m the only girl but I’m going to try and be better than them,” Del Real said.

During a lesson on how to deliver an uppercut, Ruvalcaba said his style is an offshoot of a technique used when he would cut sugar canes with his grandfather in Mexico.

Saying he’ll be in the boxing industry “until I die,” Ruvalcaba said he won’t put the students in an amateur bout if they’re not ready. He wouldn’t risk their health and his chances of training future boxers.

He constantly reminded the three to protect themselves. When he instructed the students on how to go on the offensiv, Ruvalcaba emphasized the need to keep themselves closed to attack.

“You’re going to see what I’m talking about in the ring,” he said.

‘War rings’

The lone boxing ring inside Carson City Boxing Club is only 14 feet by 14 feet. Most ring dimensions are between 16 feet to 20 feet.

“These are war rings,” Ruvalcaba said when he brought the students into the club Wednesday night.

It’s a gritty, cramped place located in an industrial complex containing automobile repair shops. Except for a stretch of carpet and the boxing ring, concrete covered most of the floor. Seven punching bags, weighing from 70 pounds to 120 pounds, hung from the open ceiling where pipes were exposed.

A bell would buzz every three minutes. Adding to the chimes were a chorus of jump ropes scraping the cement floor, speed bags being abused and hip-hop spitting through a stereo.

Included in the decoration of one wall was a phrase “When you’re not training someone else is training to whoop your booty!” and a poster promoting the June 7, 1996 bout between Julio Cesar Chavez and Oscar De La Hoya.

It’s a place designed for sweat earned the hard way.

Frank Peralta runs the gym. He’s known Ruvalcaba since the boxer was a teenager.

“He can be a pretty good coach,” Peralta said.

The ring was cleared when Ruvalcaba’s group walked in. Head protection, wrist wraps and boxing gloves were put on the three students soon after they entered. Groin protection was given to Montoya and Aguirre, who would both spar against 22-year-old Fabian Castellanos, a boxer for six years.

“Oh my God,” Del Real said when her head gear was attached and the realization seeped in about her upcoming task

Aguirre into the ring first. Castellanos took it easy on the teenager, landing a few blows to keep Aguirre moving.

“Don’t lean back … Keep your jab up … You’ve got 30 seconds,” Ruvalcaba said from one corner.

As Aguirre sparred, Montoya and Del Real shadow boxed and punched one of the hanging bags. Montoya wants to learn how to fight. Both admitted to being nervous.

“We’re barely learning how to jab,” she said.

Aguirre, sweaty but visibly unhurt, finished his bout.

“So tiring. Way more tiring than I thought,” he said.

“You’re thinking about a combination and the next thing you know you’re being hit in the face,” he added.

Montoya was next. He seemed to do better – Peralta called him “a natural” – but came away with a bloody nose he wiped on his white undershirt.

“I’ve got a better career in soccer,” he said afterward.

Castellanos said the first-timers reminded him of when he started boxing by “going in with their heads down, throwing wild.”

Del Real was last. Her opponent, 15-year-old Liz Nova, had been away from the ring since early summer but punched often. Del Real would get caught by left hooks squarely in the face when she turned her head away from Nova. At the break, she wanted to stop. Ruvalcaba kept her in. Del Real was besieged with more punches to her face but never went down. Her nose was bloodied and her face puffy. Her eyes teared but she never broke down.

As the boxing club was closing down, Ruvalcaba huddled his students together in a corner near a speed bag. He told them to relax in the ring. He told them the session would make them better.

“It just comes down to you,” he said. “What you have inside you. Your character is going to get exposed.”

– E-mail William Ferchland at


Name: Rafael Aguirre

Birthday: June 22, 1988

Born: South Lake Tahoe

Height: 5-foot-11-inches

Weight: 147 pounds

Fight weight 141

Record: 0-0-0

Coach’s comment: “Rafael Aguirre has some natural physical tools with his height and reach advantage that should give him a good shot in his bout.”

Name: Olga Del Real

Birthday: Nov. 4, 1987

Born: Guadalajara, Mexico

Height: 5-foot-3-inches

Weight: 105 pounds

Fight weight: 109 pounds

Record: 0-0-0

Coach’s comment: “I think she has the potential to surpass the two males based on the fact that she’ll probably pick up a little of everything the more she trains.”

Name: Milton Montoya

Birthday: Nov. 20, 1987

Born: Sonsonate, El Salvador

Height: 5-foot-4-inches

Weight: 140 pounds

Fight weight 132

Record: 0-0-0

Coach’s comment: “Milton, he hits like a bull.”

Name: Simon Ruvalcaba (coach)

Birthday: May 22, 1978

Born: South Lake Tahoe

Height: 5’9″

Weight: 147

Professional record: 3-7-2

Amateur record: 54-17

The South Tahoe High graduate was almost selected to appear in the second season of the boxing reality show, “The Contender,” and is eyeing a return to the ring in Reno this summer as he rehabs an injured shoulder.

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