SCHENECTADY - When Niskayuna High School junior Trevor Busch, 18, steps into the boxing ring, the nervous pre-fight feeling in his gut steps out of him.
In front of hundreds of people, under the lights and the 50-foot tall ceilings of the Schenectady Armory Center, Busch says he only sees his opponent. Everything else is gone.
"You just zone out," Busch said. "You can't even hear the people. You're focused in."
Busch, a boxer who trains at the Ring of Hope Boxing Club in Schenectady, competed in the super heavyweight division of the New York State Amateur Boxing Championships Saturday, part of a two-day tournament that concludes Sunday.
He was one of 100 fighters from the Northeast, some from as far away as Canada, who fought Saturday, many of them preliminary contests for 15 amateur title bouts on Sunday.
The boxing on display featured two rings, with boxers ages 12 and up, boys, girls and young men and women engaged in fast paced, three-minute, three-round fights, full of furious jabs, hooks, crosses and a lot of protective headgear.
Busch said he's only been boxing for about a year, but he likes it. He said he may go on to college for business or possibly law enforcement. But he'd like to continue to amateur box, with a goal toward qualifying for the Olympics, he said. Depending on his life course, maybe he'd like to pursue a professional career in the sport, he said.
"I played football, basketball, wrestling — I don't know — I just kind of wanted something with more contact," Busch said. "My father was always into boxing. He always wanted a boxer, wanted his kid to fight. It was always his dream, and, you know, he wants me to live it for him."
Saturday's event was a key step in the dream of solidifying the Schenectady Armory Center as a recognized hub for sports events in the Capital Region.
Ray Legere, a co-owner of the building through Legere Properties, said when he bought the old Schenectady Armory eight years ago it was with the goal of turning it into a multi-purpose event center. He said amateur boxing is a natural fit for the venue, because the Armory has a history of having hosted boxing decades ago.
"Boxing was very popular here in the '30s, '40s and '50s," Legere said. "And bringing the amatuers back to Schenectady is kind of a nice nostalgia thing, and it's the first event we've curated on our own."
"We did everything," Legere said. "We thought of the idea, got a good boxing partner. And we worked on the marketing, the infrastructure, the pricing, bringing in [celebrity boxers] Iran Barkley, Vinnie Paz — this is bringing the boxing community together."
Tom Petricca, general manager at Legere Restorations, said he got the idea to bring amateur boxing back to the Schenectady Armory Center when he attended the "War on the Shore" amateur boxing tournament at Lanzis on the Lake in Mayfield in August. He said the event was organized by legendary boxing promoter Bob Miller, president of the USA Boxing Adirondack Region.
"I saw how well Bob organized the event, how well the kids competed, battled hard, and the sportsmanship at the end was unbelievable. I told him, 'Bob you need to bring this event to Schenectady,'" Petricca said. "That event was outdoors, nobody heard about it, and there was still 1,000 people there.
"This event is bigger than what he would normally have because we have the space," Petricca said.
Petricca said the 30,000-square-foot space inside the Schenectady Armory Center is uniquely suited for a myriad of events, including big fundraisers for nonprofits, or larger-scale indoor sporting events.
"A lot of people can do 1,000 people, not a lot of venues can do 2,500 to 3,000 people. We've had amateur Mixed martial arts, minor-league pro-wrestling. Our next big event will be an indoor yard sale," Petricca said.
Inside the Armory Center, food was supplied by Mike's Hot Dogs and the catering business of Perreca's Bakery supplying food to the ring-side VIP tables.
Rachel Barkley, catering manager for Perrecas, said they provided tomato pies, stuffed mushroom, a pasta salad, bread and an Italian deli platter for the tables. She said they provided enough food to feed 200 people, in two rounds, one at noon and then at 3 p.m., for both days of the tournament.
"This is definitely a new relationship that we have at the armory," Barkley said. "We're building on that, as well as doing a lot of different types of catering jobs than we've done in the past."
Jason Dolan, a member of the U.S. Veterans Motorcycle group, said the members of his club, all military veterans, originally planned to attend the tournament with regular tickets. But members saw that the VIP tables weren't out of their price range, Dolan said, so they upgraded themselves ringside. Dolan said he was close enough to the action to get hit with sweat from the fighters.
"I can catch it right in my cup," Dolan said.
Also at ringside was Miller, who suffered major spinal damage in a 2016 car accident. He attended the event Saturday in his wheelchair, still actively promoting the sport he loves.
"We're going to try to do this here every year now," Miller said. "This kind of revives boxing in the area. We're bringing in a lot of teams from surrounding states, and — once they see how we do things — they're going to want to come back."
Joshua Ruiz, a fighter from Waterbury Conn., who fights at 165 lbs, said he's had seven amateur bouts so far in his career. But there aren't that many opportunities for him to fight in his home state, he said. So, getting a chance to box in New York against opponents from other parts of the Northeast grants him a chance to sharpen his skills against better competition.
"I just need branching out in my career, to see new styles," Ruiz said.
Miller said he hopes that bigger amateur boxing events can help revitalize the sport, which he said has lost too many athletes to video games and smartphones.
"If it were up to me, I'd burn every one of them. What [technology] does is it keeps kids in their basement," Miller said. "It's not just us, it's all sports. But boxing is probably harder than any other sport. We need kids eight and up."
Nasir Mayfield, a boxing coach at Ring of Hope Boxing Club in Schenectady, said having a boxing event in Schenectady is like a home game for his athletes. He said boxing can play a role in the gentrification of the neighborhood around the Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady.
He said interest in boxing is growing for his youth program. He said he started boxing as a teenager, which he believes is a good time for youth to get into the sport. He said he questions whether eight years old may be too young for boxing.
"I always think about the long-term side effects of getting hit," Mayfield said. "But as long as you're dedicated to your craft, perfecting your defense, you shouldn't get hit as much."