‘Friends of the Champ’, a local non-profit organization, is continuing its mission to help exploited ex-boxers throughout the borough and beyond.
“Our main goal is to help individual souls living a destitute life,” Michael Bernard said sitting in his office at the Villa Maria Academy in Country Club alongside 76-year-old Bob Walpole and 29-year-old Jossein Alverio.
Mike Trapani introduced Bernard, a founding member of the Friends of the Champ to 3-time World Boxing Champion, Iran Barkley, a Bronx native over 30 years ago.
According to Bernard, who’s been a physical education teacher for 40 years, said a former student turned NYPD called him one night while on patrol, “Mr. Bernard, the Champ is sleeping on a bench outside of Patterson Houses,’ ‘he looks sick.’”
Bernard, Trapani, John Zervos and John Duran immediately responded and took Barkley in.
Realizing there was a wide spread problem with poorly educated fighters who have passed their prime, having nothing to fall back on, Barkley along with Bernard, Trapani, Walpole, Zervos and Duran founded the Friends of the Champ.
Years later, Barkley is living happily with his wife Pam in a two-bedroom apartment in the south Bronx.
Now, Barkley along with the founding members of the non-profit organization has grown to 40 yearly paying members and held their first fundraising gala event this past February. Guests paid $100 a ticket to attend the event with close to 100 in attendance.
Bernard and Walpole wanted to give an extended special thank you to Cambria Hotel in White Plains, N.Y. for the accommodations.
Founding member Walpole said, “This organization is not necessarily made of people who are boxing fanatics, but people concerned with the plight of all athletes who are hard working and had the rug pulled out from beneath them.”
The board members are as listed: Iran Barkley, Pam Barkley, Michael Bernard, Johnny Zervos, John Decolator, Virginia Hotte, Cliff Hotte, Stefani Belloise, Bob Walpole, Dr. Ray Pursell, Stephen Kaufman, and honorary member Jossein Alverio.
According to Bernard, the $50 membership fees and the miscellaneous donations, go to helping ex-fighters directly, but responsibly.
Recently, Barkley asked Bernard to reach out to Leon Spinks who once beat Muhammad Ali and another Super Heavyweight champion Tyrell Biggs, who is rumored to be living in a homeless shelter in Philadelphia.
“If anyone knows a struggling boxer or one living in poverty, please refer them to us,” Bernard said.
Friends of the Champ is seeking more members and looking to start planning their second fundraiser with hopes that boxing legends like Tommy Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran will be in attendace.
Alverio said it best, “We’re raising awareness. There’s a problem in the industry, and we’re bringing awareness that there are people who can help.”
For more information on the organization and for those interested in joining, call Bernard’s office at (718) 823-5083 or email at MichaelBernard6256@gmail.com
Friends of the Champ holds meetings the third Thursday of every month at Villa Maria Academy, 3335 Country Club Road. at 7 p.m.