For 10 years, Jesús Solís was the director and coach of a very successful Napa boxing club with a name that translated to “at dawn” in Spanish.
When the sun set on Al Almanecer Boxing Club 19 years ago, Solis moved his operations to the state of Washington, and then Hawaii, and then Southern California.
But the 1968 Napa High graduate missed his hometown, and teaching the “sweet science” to fellow Napans. After his gym in Indio was shut down last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he moved back to Napa and is trying to open a gym in town again.
“I founded the club in part as a response to an increase in gang activity in Napa, but mostly because I loved the sport of boxing and wanted to share it with the youth of Napa,” Solís said.
With support from Napa businessman Michael Holcomb and the Napa Valley Unified School District, Solís and his friends converted the girls locker room at the former Ridgeview Junior High School campus — now Harvest Middle School — into a beautiful boxing gym with ring, heavy bags, speed bags, weight room and tutoring room with computers, funded with help from the Gasser Foundation and the Community Foundation of Napa Valley. The Boys & Girls Club of Napa Valley, under then-director Dave Ison, came on board as the club’s fiscal sponsor.
“The boxers took an active part in caring for our gym by painting murals inside and out, and keeping the facility clean,” Solís said. “Over the course of 10 years, our gym served hundreds of kids who came to the gym every day after school to work out, hang out, and get help with homework. We had a tutoring program with a computer lab for all of the kids to keep their grades up and work on basic skills. We had a core group of about 20 young boxers who demonstrated the commitment in their training to compete.
“In a short time, we had multiple state and regional champions, and even a national champion in Federico Audelo. Another boxer, Miguel Villalobos, earned a berth with the Mexico Olympic team by winning their national Junior Olympic competition. Our team repeatedly earned best boxer and best team awards. The boxers were exposed to life beyond Napa by traveling to competitions across California, Oregon and Nevada and even as far as New York, Michigan and Florida.”
Solís was named as the Volunteer of the Year by the Boys & Girls Club of Napa Valley in 1993. He also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Hispanic Network in 1998, and was named a “Community Hero” by the Napa County Commission on Self-Esteem in 2000.
The Board of Supervisors declared April 23, 2002 “Jesús Solís Day” — as he was closing the gym.
“Unfortunately, just as my core boxers were reaching adulthood, the club was required to move to the new Boys & Girls Club facility,” Solís said of the club for ages 18 and younger. “Due to its location inside the clubhouse, my boxers who had reached age 19 were prohibited from participating. Some were boxers who showed great promise, but I suddenly had nowhere to train them. A prime example was Ricardo Junez, who was on the cusp of beginning a pro boxing career.
“That change in circumstances — coupled with a less supportive club director and the theft of a mobile boxing ring that was our primary fundraiser — led me to close the Al Amanecer Boxing Club in 2002, shortly before I retired from a 30-year teaching career with the Napa Valley Unified School District.
“It was a heartbreaking decision.”
He spent the next six years in Washington, where he renovated an old barn into a boxing gym, and then eight years in Hawaii, where he coached off and on in a borrowed, makeshift gym.
“Those rural environments didn’t lend themselves to recreating the same environment I had at Al Amanecer,” he said. “It just wasn’t the same magic.”
Solís relocated in 2018 to Indio, where he connected with pro trainers Joel and Antonio Díaz.
“I had the great experience of lending them a hand in the gym and learning more about pro conditioning as they worked with many champion boxers from around the world, including Juan ‘Pivi’ Romero, Julio Ceja, Shakhram Giyasov and Jaime Diamante Gallegos,” he recalled. “I also got to assist Román ‘Chocolatito’ González in his training camp with Marcos Caballero at the Coachella boxing gym. I began training a few young boxers — and then COVID hit and everything shut down.”
Solís began his own career as a boxer in 1968 and trained at Joe Gavras’ boxing gym on Action Avenue under coach Al Dawson. After winning the Golden Gloves Western Regional Championship, he became the assistant boxing coach at the then-Chico State College while studying there. After college, he began a career in Napa as a Spanish teacher and wrestling coach.
“Napa is home,” he said. “I decided it was time to return home to try to finish what I started and achieve my dream of coaching a boxer to the Olympics or a world championship.
“I am currently looking for young boxers of any gender who have a genuine desire to learn the ‘sweet science’ and the dedication to train hard. I’m also looking for a building in which to start my new club, dedicated to the sport of boxing and instilling the discipline, self-confidence, and self-control that the sport demands.”
Those who are interested or want more information may contact Solís at firstname.lastname@example.org or (808) 209-9931.