Avi Singh (left), with the Port Kells Boxing Club, fought against Donovan Cridland from Kelowna’s Los Gatos Locos boxing club. (Saša Lakić)

‘I fell in love and never left’: Al Harper’s decades-long boxing career honoured at Cloverdale fight night

Port Kells Boxing Club’s Avi Singh and Tyler Chambers win against Kelowna’s Los Gatos Locos

Port Kells Boxing Club’s Al Harper was honoured at the seventh-annual Jim Gallagher Memorial Boxing Tournament at the Cloverdale Legion Saturday (March 16).

The longtime coach was given the title award — the Jim Gallagher Memorial Award — for his decades of dedication to the boxing club. Harper took over the club from Tommy Hibbert as head coach and manager in 1987, after the Sullivan Boxing Club shut down in the mid-1980s.

When presenting the award, tournament organizer Ralph Robson said the following qualities are needed to be considered for the honour: work ethic, courage, perseverance, leadership and good sportsmanship.

“Not only does tonight’s recipient tick [off] all boxes, he is homegrown in the Port Kells boxing [club],” Robson told the audience of roughly 350 spectators.

Not realizing he was getting the award, Harper took a minute or two to join Robson and Jim Gallagher’s son, Kerry Gallagher, in the ring.

During intermission at the Jim Gallagher amateur boxing tournament, Kerry Gallagher (left) and Ralph Robson (centre) honoured Al Harper (right) with the Jim Gallagher Memorial award for his work with the Port Kells Boxing Club.
During intermission at the Jim Gallagher amateur boxing tournament, Kerry Gallagher (left) and Ralph Robson (centre) honoured Al Harper (right) with the Jim Gallagher Memorial award for his work with the Port Kells Boxing Club.

Saša Lakić

“This was unexpected. These guys fooled me big time,” he said. “I love boxing. I have been doing it for a lot of years and to see this crowd out here to support the Jim Gallagher [tournament] is just great.”

Harper said there was so much interest from various boxing clubs to fill that night’s card that he was almost turning fights down.

Harper took interest in boxing at a young age. He loved to watch televised fights with his father, particularly if his favourite fighter, Roberto Duran, was in the ring.

One day, when he was 16 years old, he walked into the Sullivan Boxing Club — where Jim Gallagher’s sons Kerry and Steve were members — and started his journey in boxing.

“I started out in the gym and then quit for a while,” Harper said, explaining that at the time he was not ready to commit fully to the sport. He came back a few years later, when he was “about 18 or 19.”

“Once I got back into it, I fell in love and never left,” he said.

Harper became a professional boxer in 1986, after racking up 52 amateur fights. By the time he retired in 1997, he had fought 34 professional matches.

These days, he focuses on his work as head coach at Port Kells Boxing Club. His expertise seemed to be paying off for Port Kells boxers, as both of the entrants from the club won their matches on Saturday night.

First up in the 157-lb category was Avi Singh, who bested Kelowna’s Donovan Cridland. After the fight, Singh said the fight was tougher than expected and that he will have to go back to the gym to work on ironing out some kinks in his technique.

“He came at me with weird shots,” the 21-year-old electrician apprentice said. “He was looking for one-punch knockouts, so I was just trying to move, and box and find my rhythm. I had some difficulty doing that, but I will go into the gym and start working on that a little more.”

In the super heavyweight category, Tyler Chambers dominated Rob Mason-Brown, with Kelowna’s Los Gatos Locos club, from the get-go. Working Mason-Brown’s body, Chambers punished his mid-section in the first round, striking his right side numerous times and sending him into the break in pain.

Chambers, a former hockey player for the Vancouver Giants, continued his assault in the second round. Midway through, the Kelowna boxer threw in the towel to prevent further damage.

“The whole trick with Tyler is to get him to throw his hands, and he popped the guy with a couple of body shots, which took a little bit of gas out the tank,” said Robson, a coach at Port Kells. “The liver is around there somewhere, and if you hit is hard enough, you just absolutely drop.”

The Jim Gallagher Memorial Tournament has been organized annually since Gallagher, a major champion of amateur boxing in B.C., passed away in 2012. The profits from the tourney go towards helping amateur B.C. boxers pay for travel costs associated with the sport.

Robson could not put a figure on how much Saturday’s even raised, but was confident this year’s turnout was the tournament’s best so far. Last year, they were able to donate $2,000 to the Boxing BC Association.

This year’s tournament was won of the largest yet, with 15 matches on the card. Although the title fight between Glenn Forde and Josh Wright had to be cancelled due to an injury during warm-up, there was still plenty for spectators to watch. With everything from a Junior B Novice (90 lbs) exhibition between Griffins Boxing’s Ali Beig and Nelson Boxing’s Makalu Babott, to elite super heavyweight match ups, the event offered up bout after bout of the best of B.C.’s amateur boxers.


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