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Pittsburgh boxing trainer and promoter maintains dedication to fighters' dreams

| Wednesday, July 25, 2012, 10:59 a.m.
Jimmy Cvetic, at right, joins injured Clairton police officer James Kuzak Jr., center, in leading a group of boxers to the ring for the opening ceremonies of last summer’s Guns & Hoses boxing benefit event in Monroeville. Ronald Vezzani Jr. | Daily News

Jimmy Cvetic's Pittsburgh-area boxing gyms now are serving a third generation by providing young men a place to go and something to do instead of falling into crime.

"It started 40 years ago," said Cvetic, founder and executive director of the Western Pennsylvania Police Athletic League, a retired Allegheny County police officer and a resident of the East Suburbs.

"It gives kids a cool place to hang out. Now, you have crack, 9mm guns and assault rifles. We didn't have that 40 years ago.

"I'm teaching the kids and grandkids of those that came to my gyms. I have a lot of good men helping."

Cvetic's goal to help youths led him to open several boxing gyms in western Pennsylvania. In addition to Third Avenue in Pittsburgh's downtown, Fineview, Boyce Athletic Club in Plum and a gym in Punxsutawney, he opened a gym two weeks ago in Braddock. He is planning to open one in McKeesport.

"Holistically, it brings youth together and persuades them to stay away from crime and gives them a structure," said Robert White, a former amateur boxer and city police officer who volunteers at the Fineview gym in Pittsburgh. "It's good and wholesome."

White said the Fineview gym serves 20 to 30 youths.

"A lot of these programs need to be brought back that youth no longer have,"White said. "This gym is helping the neighborhood. I coach and extend my experiences to youth. We have excellent trainers."

Keeping the doors open at the Third Avenue gym has become a financial struggle. The rent is $1,200 per month.

"I want to keep my Third Avenue gym open," Cvetic said. "I'm having trouble keeping the rent paid. We need new gloves and boxing shorts."

Cvetic said, "Our slogan is ‘Always for the kids.' We're making champions in life."

What drives Cvetic to help youths came from his own childhood and his early days in law enforcement.

"It was always important to do things in the neighborhood and keep it right," Cvetic said. "My father was good. He would teach us that."

The eldest of seven children whose father was a steel mill hammerman and mother a schoolteacher, Cvetic - despite his upbringing - said he did not always do things right. In his youth, he said, he was a rule breaker and got punished often.

"You couldn't count the times I got my backside swatted," he said. "My lessons came a little harder. I was a slow learner."

Growing up in Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville neighborhood, Cvetic learned many things the hard way.

"We were bad," he said. "We all had growing pains. We played hooky. I went with my friends skinny dipping in the Allegheny (river). My friends would steal cars, and I rode in them. It was the norm. We were stupid."

His junior year attending the former Connelley Trade School, Cvetic said, he was truant 47 days, but it would have been longer if he had not been caught shoplifting.

"I remember it was 47 days, and I got caught shoplifting a pack of cigarettes for my friend. He was the lookout. He was a bad lookout, and I was a bad thief."

Cvetic recalled once his mother punished him for two weeks. He had to clean the family's home, and he wasn't allowed to go out.

When Cvetic got his fill of getting into trouble, he quit skipping school.

"One day, I said I'm in enough trouble. I'm going to school. I had to punch a time clock. I had to punch in and out of school. They kept track of me."

Cvetic joined the Air Force after graduation, completed his four-year stint serving in Vietnam and returned home in 1971.

"That was an education," he said. "I wanted to be a writer. I went to Boyce Community College. I was told that I should take the county police test. I became a police officer. I was still a little wayward then. I had no desire to be a county policeman. Next thing, it's 30 years later, and I retired. It was my fate to be a county police officer."

"Our thing is to serve with honor, devotion to duty and personal integrity. In the early '70s I believed I could change the world. I'm a child of the '60s. I loved the music. At that time, we were all young cops and ambitious for truth. Most of us were Vietnam vets. Fifty or 60 of us were hired. We were learning the size of our badge."

Cvetic said he was hired by the late Robert Kroner, superintendent of the Alleg- heny County Police. The department doubled in size under Kroner's command.

"He built the department," Cvetic said "He was from Lawrenceville. He helped me open a gym. I always loved boxing."

Crimes that resulted in children's deaths will always haunt Cvetic.

"The worst was a 20-month-old child who had been beaten to death," he said. "I wanted her to be alive, and she wasn't."

Arresting a boy in Lawrenceville when Cvetic was fresh out of the police academy still gets to him.

"The first kid I ever arrested was in Lawrenceville,"he said. "He was 13 years old and breaking into cars to steal tape decks. I grabbed him by the back of his pants just like they did to me when I was busted as a kid. This boy reminded me of a choir boy, blond hair and blue eyes, but a bad little boy. I remember this first arrest. He died of a drug overdose a year and a half later. I always felt I should've done something. Because of that boy, I opened boxing gyms. I will always see that boy. He has immortality in my eyes."

Cvetic's earlier ambitions to be a writer became a hobby. He has written poetry for decades, and some of it has been published locally. He has participated in summer readings at Oakland's Hemingway Café for decades.

Cvetic authored "Secret Society of Dog," a book of poetry published by Awesome Books in 2010 which is available at amazon.com. He also is working on a new police-related book.

Cvetic said all proceeds from the books benefit the youths served in his local boxing gyms. Donations may be sent to the Third Avenue Gym, 225 Ross Street, Pittsburgh, PA, 15219.

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