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

WEST FORKS PLANTATION - When Brandon Berry steps into the boxing ring Thursday, he won't just be fighting for the night's light welterweight title.

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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.

He'll be fighting for his family's store, in danger of failing after three generations.

He'll be fighting for West Forks Plantation, a northern Somerset County community of about 50, reeling from the stagnant economy of the last several years.

Berry, who has won the two professional fights he's been in, is part of the professional card of the Fight to Educate, a six-fight event Thursday in Manchester, N.H.'s Verizon Wireless Arena.

If the 25-year-old can win enough fights, he can earn enough money to prop up the store. The store props up the community, and the community props up Berry. It's a cycle of struggle, faith, community and love.

That's what Berry is fighting for.

The odds against him are enormous, but the people of West Forks have put their money and support behind him.

They say he can hit harder than a recession.

They need him to.

Berry and his family's store are a critical part of the area's effort to attract tourists. Everyone agrees that without tourists, it wouldn't take long for the town -- in an area that's a mecca for snowmobilers, all-terrain vehicle riders, fishermen, hunters and whitewater rafters -- to disappear.

Outside Maine, Berry is unknown. But in his own small corner of the world, he's a big name.

Berry's General Store is the area's sole source of bullets, beer, milk, mousetraps, cigarettes, shoelaces, groceries, gasoline and gossip. Berry knows family general stores are going out of style, but he's not ready to give up on his family's.

Inside the store, locals lounge in lawn chairs that are ostensibly for sale. Above their heads, dozens of deer antlers dangle from the ceiling and the walls are lined with hunting trophies. In one corner, a clothes rack holds a bunch of empty hangers and a handful of moose antlers with price tags on them.

Local workmen post their business cards on the wall -- Foley's Wood Floors, Adam Baker Well Drilling, Hamilton Sandblasting, Maysic Construction.

As people buy supplies, they circulate cards for those who are ill, announce community dinners, get gas and organize benefits.

Forest Hopkins, who stopped in recently to pick up a drink, is from Bingham, 25 miles down U.S. Route 201. But he's familiar with Berry.

"Oh, the boxer," he said. "I guess he's been winning. Down in Bingham, we all know about that, down that way."

 

FAMILY BUSINESS STRUGGLES

Two weeks before the big fight, Berry's father, Gordon, bearded and wearing a hunting cap, stood behind the store in a rough grassy area littered with pallets, broken freezers, propane tanks and shelving units -- the store's castoffs.

Gordon Berry is in his own fight, against the Great Recession, which began pummeling his store, and much of Maine's tourism industry, in 2007.

"Back to back, three or four years of bad business, it's put us right down on the floor," he said.

But as he hitched a trailer to his truck, Berry said he wouldn't give up quietly.

"I'm going down to get wood so I can bundle it up, sell it to the rafting companies," he said. "I mow lawns, plow snow. You have to do three, four jobs just to keep things on an even keel."

He works between 60 and 80 hours a week, coming in at 4 a.m. most days to make breakfast sandwiches. But it's not enough. He's cut wood on his land and sold it to keep the business solvent. In some cases, he's sold the land itself.

(Continued on page 2)

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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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