September 8, 2013

Maine boxer takes on the fight of his life

A light welterweight boxer from West Forks Plantation will fight his third professional bout – with his community's firm support.

By MATT HONGOLTZ-HETLING Morning Sentinel

(Continued from page 1)

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Brandon Berry is turning to a professional boxing career in the hope that it will help him save his family’s general store in West Forks Plantation.

Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

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Brandon Berry stocks shelves during his afternoon shift at the family’s general store.

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12TH ANNUAL FIGHT TO EDUCATE

WHEN: Thursday

WHERE: Verizon Wireless Center, Manchester, N.H.

TIMES: Silent auction starts at 5:30 p.m.; boxing begins at 8 p.m. Event raises money for at-risk and disadvantaged children.

BOUTS: Six-fight card: three amateur, three professional.

The event is headlined by two welterweight matches: Danny "Bhoy" O'Connor of Framingham, Mass., will fight Raul Tover Jr. of McAllen, Texas; Chris Gilbert of Windsor, Vt., will fight Anthony Chase of Providence, R.I.

In the light welterweight match, Brandon Berry of West Forks Plantation will fight Jesus Cintron of Springfield, Mass.

This year, despite his best efforts, the store has struggled. When the freezer broke down, he couldn't afford to replace it immediately, and so he stopped selling frozen food for a while. Another time, money was too tight to keep restocking the fuel tanks, and so he went without gas and diesel for months.

His son will inherit the store one day, he said, but not when it's a financial drain.

If Brandon Berry defies the odds and succeeds in boxing, he could win enough money to save the store, but the father and son haven't talked seriously about it.

Gordon Berry said it wouldn't be fair to ask his son to prop up the store with money he's earned.

"I don't want him to have to do that," he said. "Absolutely not."

Yet Brandon, who works 50 or more hours at the store each week, said it's also not fair for his father.

"I don't want him to have to do it with what he's earned," he said. "He's selling land."

Gordon Berry tries not to get too excited about the prospect of his son's success. "It's a long shot," he said.

Then, in the next breath: "It could happen. You don't have to live in Las Vegas or Philadelphia."

A TOWN ON THE ROPES

There may be more at stake for Berry than the family store.

Like boxing itself, West Forks is rugged and exhilarating, but a tough place to make a living.

It has no schools, no library, no churches. Instead, there is access to the Dead River, the Penobscot River, the Kennebec River. A chunk of the Appalachian Trail runs just south of town. There's Moxie Falls, a 92-foot vertical waterfall, and Coburn Mountain, which at 3,750 feet boasts the highest groomed snowmobile trail in Maine.

The natural attractions bring in enough snowmobilers, ATV riders, kayakers, whitewater rafters, fishermen, hunters and hikers to allow a small army of guides, equipment rental agencies and vacation rental businesses to eke out a living.

The year-round population is about 50, but in the summer, the guides and other seasonal workers, many of whom live in tents in the woods, temporarily increase the population to about 400, according to Pamela Christopher, director of The Forks Area Chamber of Commerce and co-owner of nearby Sea Moxie Gore Outfitters.

Unemployment rates spike in the off-season, rarely falling below 10 percent in the years since the recession hit, according to the Maine Department of Labor. In December 2011, the unemployment rate was 27 percent.

If the economy continues to clobber Berry's General Store and the local hospitality industry, many families would be devastated.

"There are tens of millions of dollars invested in this community," Christopher said.

Business leaders in West Forks and the surrounding communities have been trying all the usual strategies to stay alive. In the hopes of attracting more tourists, the community expanded its trail system, applied for grants and pooled money to buy ads.

About 14 years ago, they founded The Forks Area Chamber of Commerce, which today includes 45 members from West Forks and other communities on the U.S. 201 corridor, such as Bingham, Jackman and Greenville.

But, unlike most other small communities, West Forks is also pouring a portion of its meager resources into a long shot: Brandon Berry, whose boxing career has, so far, cost money.

His trainer, Skeet Wyman, who is also a lobsterman, doesn't charge Berry to train in his gym, but it's in Stockton Springs, in northern Waldo County. Berry drives about 700 miles in a thrice-weekly trip to the gym, which costs him about $600 a month in gas alone.

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Additional Photos

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A trophy case highlighting the boxing career of Brandon Berry lines the main aisle in the family’s store.

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Brandon Berry’s home gym is in the former service garage next to his family’s general store in West Forks Plantation.

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The former service garage next to the store where Brandon Berry works out.



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