The legal battle that reads like a 'Rocky' script

In Philadelphia, a “David and Goliath” battle is currently under way to preserve a legendary piece of boxing history is demonstrating the need for common sense reform in the legal system.  

For 46 years, Charlie Sgrillo, 75, has owned and operated the legendary Harrowgate Boxing Club. The Harrowgate Gym is affectionately considered one of the real-life inspirations for "Rocky's" "Mighty Mick's Gym", and Charlie has since grown into a real-life Mickey Goldmill; giving a place for the youth of the rough Philadelphia streets of Kensington, Harrowgate, Frankford, Port Richmond and Juniata a safe place to learn a sport of discipline, respect and responsibility.

Many of the youths that Charlie trained have gone on to make their mark in Philadelphia’s already storied history of Boxing, becoming world champions and Olympic medalists, to include WBC champion welterweight Danny Garcia.

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As reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer back in January; the Harrowgate Boxing Club is currently in danger of closing as Charlie is under a legal attack. The battle started when Charlie made an ‘old-school’ handshake agreement to allow a local fight trainer named Chuck "Diesel" Maguire to use the upstairs portion of the gym to train his athletes for a donation of $500 a month. 

 

After only one year, McGuire initiated a dispute over a leak in the floor and missing several donations; resulting in Charlie’s “locking him out” of the gym. Shortly thereafter, a lawsuit was filed as McGuire claimed he had “insufficient notice.”

For over three years, an unscrupulous fight in court has created a myriad of filings and pushed a simple handshake deal into something that may jeopardize a piece of sports history. This is because lawyers have pushed a claim by McGuire that he lost out on a hundred thousand in missed purses. Despite common sense evidence and Charlie’s heartfelt testimony on the stand; Judges still ruled in favor of McGuire to the tune of a $106,000 award. 

Now, in a story that reads like the script of "Rocky 5," Charlie, a former teamster who in retirement trains fighters in a nonprofit; is trying to fight legally; keeping Sheriffs from closing this historic gym.

For Philadelphia, the closing of the Harrowgate will not only rob community youth of all races from becoming up-and-coming fighters of their gym and safe haven; but a legacy will be erased, and the "Irish Boxing" bouts in Wildwood, NJ and Philadelphia that match Belfast’s toughest with Philadelphia fighters,  a regional tradition, may also no longer exist.

So how could a simple $500-a-month dispute metastasize into a legal cancer that grew to $106,000 judgement in a community where houses still cost under $50,000? Good question. One could believe that this is a true example for reforming our civil justice system. It is clear that all common sense left the courtroom in lieu of a myriad of confusing legal filings that could not be defended by the fact that the agreement this was based on was a “handshake deal”, which was the way business was conducted at the Harrowgate for roughly half-a-century. Some consider this a political issue, as Charlie is a loyal Republican who works in a city that is 7:1 Democrat. What has become blatantly clear is that the battle to save the Harrowgate Boxing Club is yet another example of how a good man could get “screwed” by our legal system, and that reforms are needed.

In the meantime, many of us are trying to help save the Harrowgate from becoming yet another boarded up building on the Sheriff’s sale list in Philadelphia. Charlie’s wife put up a GoFundMe page for this purpose, but the donations are far from where they need to be to meet Charlie’s legal fees.

One of the most touching gestures came from the ‘Reverend’ Bob Levy, the comedian who gave so many famous comics their first breaks as Charlie did for young boxers; who has put together a benefit show to support the Harrowgate on Wednesday, March 29th at 7:30PM at Philadelphia’s Punchline Comedy Club. The show will includes live music from Billy “The Kid” Thodenand the Dom Levy Band (known for their support of veterans) and comedy from Levy, a regular on the Howard Stern, Opie & Anthony, Artie Lange, and Kid Chris shows; Louis "Twitchels" Centanni from MTV's "True Life", "Silver Linings Playbook", and the Opie & Anthony show, and comedian Andy Julia whose show "the Idiots" can be heard weekly on wildfire radio.  At the time this column was written, tickets are still available for the benefit.

While the last two paragraphs may have seemed like a shameless plug, imagine what would happen if Americans collectively shrugged when our iconic places get shut down because of legal wrangling? One of the things that Philadelphia is known for as it’s known for looking out for the underdog; unlike it’s neighbor to the north (New York City) who allows landmarks like CBGBs and the Carnegie Deli to close. If "Rocky" still plays every weekend on cable television, shouldn’t the real-life places that produce real-life "Rockys" still be allowed to operate? This author thinks so and hopes you do as well.

A. Benjamin Mannes is a national subject matter expert in public safety and regular contributor to The Hill. He serves as a member of the Pierce College Criminal Justice Studies Advisory Board in Philadelphia and is a governor on the executive board of InfraGard, the FBI-coordinated public-private partnership for critical infrastructure protection. His writing has appeared in the Washington Times, Philadelphia Daily News, Arizona Republic, and Buffalo News. Follow him on Twitter @PublicSafetySME


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