by Tom Burnett
Shawn Blair is The Daily Herald Sports Person of the Year for 2016. Blair is a two-time Caribbean Boxing Champion, a silver medallist in the New York Golden Gloves, a trainer, a boxing referee and now president of the St. Maarten Boxing Association.
Blair was instrumental in getting St. Maarten accepted into the AIBA (International Boxing Association.) “We [St. Maarten] are the two-hundred-and-first member of AIBA,” said Blair. “This will open doors for our coaches, trainers and young boxers.”
Blair has fought 44 times and lost only four. He has had four pro fights, winning two, drawing once with only one loss. For Blair, worse than the loss was the pain of training hard for months for a fight that was then cancelled at the last minute; this occurred mostly money issues.
During his career he has trained hard and occasionally been disappointed not by his performance but by promoters. Once he was told the day before he was to leave for a bout that he could not go because there was no money.
Not long ago St. Maarten was to host a boxing tournament. By then Blair was a trainer and had prepared younger boxers. Fighters actually arrived on Island only to be turned away as accommodation had not been secured to the athletes. Even this year, the 2016 event was cancelled.
Blair, known in the ring as the Pit Bull, started boxing in 1992. Right from the start, he was a beast in the ring. He won gold in the welterweight division of the Caribbean Amateur Boxing Championships in the Bahamas back in 2003 for his second Caribbean Gold medal. The name “Pit Bull” stuck with him even after he traded in his gloves for a trainer’s towel.
In 2012 Dr. Grace Spencer, who sat ringside for local boxing matches, said, "I really respect Shawn. He never gives up. He always has a positive attitude and two of his boxers just returned with good results."
Blair travelled with Gregorio Denis and Akeem Williams to the Ronald Wilson Boxing Tournament in Barbados. The pair won gold, even though during their training cycle they lost the use of their training facility. Un-fazed, Blair worked the athletes outdoors on the Great Bay Beach Promenade.
By August 2013 Blair had established the Progressive Style Boxing Gym Foundation. President of the new foundation, Susanna Velasquez, said, "This has been a dream of Shawn's for a long time. Shawn, like all of us, believes you have to train the mind as well as the body."
Unlike traditional gyms with a ring, punching bags and other sports equipment, Blair wants computers in the gym. "We want to establish a safe place where kids can come to do their homework and exercise," said Velasquez.
In 2015 Blair was the coach for two local boxers entering the ring for their first fight at the Caribbean Development Boxing Tournament held in the Cliff Anderson Sports Auditorium, in Georgetown, Guyana. The one of his fighters, Egmar Cozier, won a gold medal.
This year after being elected president of the St. Maarten Boxing Association Blair was determined to return to the Caribbean Development Boxing Tournament. The competition and regional meeting of Caribbean boxing members was to be held in Barbados.
The boxing association had too little money so Blair went looking for help. Many people stepped up. One was Gromyko Wilson. “I support him all the way,” said Wilson. “I believe we have great potential in the athletes in St. Maarten. I did this via my 721news sports section of the website.” But neither were satisfied with just Barbados.
At the Caribbean Development Boxing Tournament Blair met International Boxing Association President Dr. Ching-Kuo Wu. Dr. Wu outlined how AIBA planned to help develop the region’s boxing with marketing, competitions and training courses.
Blair wanted St. Maarten in on the program. He was invited to Switzerland to AIBA’s 75th Anniversary Extraordinary Congress to lobby for St. Maarten membership. Unfortunately Blair had only a month to raise the funds, but even that did not even slow down the Pit Bull. He turned to Wilson again and his family and friends. People like Jacinth M. Chemont, Bryan Labega, Roselina Fiacques, Floyd Skeete, Sergio Procasi, and Kathy Harper Hall all believed in Blair and helped out. This led to St. Maarten being accepted as the newest member of International Boxing Association (AIBA.)
“I supported him all the way to get the SXM Boxing listed on AIBA,” said Wilson. “With this accomplishment St. Maarten Boxing can benefit from international support. “I have plans for boxing on St. Maarten,” said Blair. “We used to have some 23 fighters on the Island. I want to get back to that.”
Blair went on to say he wants the individual gyms and clubs to prepare fighters, and then when ready the boxers will move up and train with the national team coach. “We are recognized internationally. St. Maarten has always won Gold at the Caribbean Championship, and now in AIBA our young boxers will be able to go a lot further.”
For his tenacity both inside and outside of the ring, for his dedication to the sport and in particular the youth, Shawn Blair is hereby namedthe Daily Herald’s Sports Person of the Year for 2016.