Villa Maria Academy honors boxer, Iran Barkley

Villa Maria Academy paid tribute to a man who has donated his time to students for over a dozen years as a guest speaker. Even though he is a famous boxer, he has never charged an appearance fee to the school and has always shared his positive message with the students.

Parents and physical education teacher Michael Bernard put together the Friends of the Champ fundraiser held at Michael’s Caterers on Friday, June 11 in honor of five-time world champion boxer Iran “The Blade” Barkley. The gala dinner also included an awards ceremony for heroes from the military and the New York City Fire Department.

Barkley has spoken at Villa Maria Academy’s annual Breakfast of Champions, held every March, for the past 14 years. The breakfast affords students the opportunity to hear inspirational messages. Barkley, who won middleweight and super-middleweight titles in the late 1980s and early 1990s, said that the reason he speaks without a fee when mostly all other boxers charge for every appearance is that he’d rather feel grateful than demanding.

“The truth is that a lot of celebrities become mean to the fans, the same people that pay money to come see them,” Barkley said. “I feel that God has given me a talent and been good to me and blessed me. I will not change because I have achieved success.”

Barkley was swarmed with people seeking his autograph during the event, but it didn’t seem to faze him. He signed as many as possible and said that he felt great to be honored for all of his work for Villa Maria Academy.

Bernard said that he was able to put together the tribute to the school’s favorite motivational speaker and others who deserve recognition with the help of three parents: John Marano, John Zervos, and Mike Trapani.

“Iran has been to the Breakfast of Champions for the past 14 years and this is the first time we honoed him,” Bernard said. “I brought together three dads who are boxing fans and we made the decision to call it Friends of the Champ. Iran just turned 50, so the celebration is also partly a birthday celebration.”

But it was much more, Bernard said. Being honored alongside Barkley were military leaders Captain Frank Parisi, Chief Warrant Officer Steve Badgley, Command Sergeant Major Robert Riti, and Eugene Stolowski of the FDNY. They were honored for their bravery on the battlefield and in defending the lives of their fellow citizens. Riti also spoken with the students a few years ago at the Breakfast of Champions, and said he was proud to be honored.

“It feels good to have people come up to me here and say thank you for your service,” Riti, an Iraq War veteran, said. “I know that the soldiers in Vietnam did not come back to that kind of reception.”

Reach reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 742-3393 or

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