West Allegheny student earns national boxing title
West Allegheny's Dominique Gerlach isn't a typical soon-to-be high school junior.
At 16, Gerlach would much rather spend her time sparring with her training partner or punching a heavy bag in her father's gym than shopping at the mall or texting friends.
An amateur boxer, Gerlach became a national champion June 19 when she defeated Katherine Keller of Texas at the Junior Olympics boxing championships in Camp Lejeune, N.C. Gerlach (17-1) relied on her strong left hook and aggressive style to earn a unanimous decision and the gold medal.
"I was really nervous," said Gerlach, who stopped Indiana's Ava Young a day earlier to earn her spot in the 138-pound championship bout. "(Keller) tried to intimidate me, but I was fine after the fight started. I took her punches, but they didn't hurt."
Gerlach was one of 400 amateur boxers who participated in the event, which crowned champions from across the country in varying weight classifications. She qualified for the national tournament by winning the Eastern Regional on May 21 in Lawrenceville.
"I wanted it really badly," said Gerlach, who started sparring at age 10. "I knew I had what it took to win, but I was nervous before the championship."
Gerlach's national championship victory may be her most impressive, but the amateur is no stranger to winning boxing tournaments. She emerged as the Ohio State Fair champion in 2007 and the Silver Gloves Regional champion last year.
In her 18 fights, Gerlach has never been knocked down. She suffered her only defeat three years ago after a controversial decision by a judge left her trailing on the scorecard. Since the defeat, Gerlach has trained rigorously with her father at his gym four days a week. The regimen has been successful, as she has won 10 consecutive bouts.
Her father, Chuck Gerlach, fought until his 42nd birthday and has more than 60 amateur boxing and kick boxing matches under his belt. He trains amateur boxers at the West Allegheny Fighting Academy in Imperial. Dominique is only the second female boxer he has trained to fight in a national tournament.
"Dominique has strong hands and a powerful punch," said Chuck Gerlach, who also trained his son Brian on his way to a state Golden Glove championship. "I didn't encourage either of my kids to box because it is hard watching them. Deep down, I know the ultimate goal is to knock the opponent unconscious."
Despite the obvious risks, like getting knocked out, Chuck Gerlach said amateur boxing is safer than high school football.
"There are fewer injuries, and I never let a kid spar without the proper training and techniques," he said. "If I had a nickel for every kid who left after one training session, I'd be a wealthy man."
Dominique will have to wait a year before she can fight older female amateurs. Amateur boxing rules require fighters to be 17 before they are considered adult fighters.
"The hardest thing about women's boxing is the lack of competition," Chuck Gerlach said. "There just aren't a lot of fights for them."
The family has traveled to find fights for Dominique, who has also boxed in Michigan, Kentucky and Virginia.
"I just don't want her to do it as long as I did," he said. "I'm OK with it now, but I hope she doesn't continue too long."