THE TWO NOVICE heavyweights stalked each other cautiously near the center of the ring. They shifted weight, lumbered sideways, waited, watched. Occasional probing exchanges of jabs were the only punches. Dave Jacobs' green eyes never left the fighters as he talked.
"Our program takes youngsters off the streets," he said. "It does a lot for the kids.They watch a Ray Leonard work out and they say to themselves, 'Hey, I can do that.'"
In the ring the taller fighter made his move, launching a left hook. His opponent blocked it, stepped inside and answered with three sharp punches, the last an uppercut to the nose. Blood trickled from the taller man's left nostril, tracing a thin red line along his lip.
"O.K., time, you guys," Jacobs shouted the moment the blood appeared. He climbed into the ring and attended the cut while giving the boxers a verbal instant replay of what thye had done right and wrong.
The two men went off for some bag work and Jacobs returned to his visitor.
"They think of the travel. For them, boxing is a way of going places they only dreamed of."
Dave Jacobs understands dreams.
Six years ago, there was no money or equipment when the Rubini Club started in Palmer Park, Md. Jacobs, a former professional fighter, had moved from the District and volunteered to coach the club. It consumed so much of his time that he lost his regular job and life was pretty lean before he was placed on the payroll of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission last April.
Jacobs has coached more than 500 young boxers in the spartan facilities, until just recently using borrowed equipment and his own money. His emphasis on strict discipline and development of individual skills has produced remarkable results.
For three straight years he has produced the AAU championship boxing team from his small stable of area youths at the Oakcrest Community Center. In 1974 he was AAU coach of the year. Last July he realized a coach's dream as he watched his most celebrated protege, Sugar Ray Leonard, win the light-welterweight Gold Medal at the Montreal Olympics. In February, 10,000 watched Leonard win his first professional bout at Baltimore Civic Center.
"I love working with kids," Jacobs said. "When we first started we never thought about it. It was a community thing. We never thought that we'd be going to the Olympics. We never thought how far they's go in tournaments or even if they'd stay in the gym. But once a young man gets involved in boxing, it's hard for him to quit.
"One main reason is you take them off the street, give them a place to go, put them in a program where, who knows, they may wind up with a scholarship that could take them through college."
A young boxer interrupted, waving arms buried almost to the elbows in black gloves the size of the catcher's mitts known as spitball specials.
"I can't box in these," he complained.
"If Sonny Liston could fight in those you can too," Jacobs assured him. "A good friend of Sonny's gave them to me. You can't get any better gloves." He swabbed the leather clean and loosened the wrist lacings. "These are 16-ounce. We'll work out with 16-to 14-ounce pairs and then we'll go as far down in amateurs as 6-ounce gloves with 18 inches of gauze wrap underneath."
Jacobs teaches experience. He talks of "fighter's instinct" developed over the years that enables a fighter to feel an opponent's weakness or anticipate an opening split seconds before it comes. Which is why, he says, aging fighters often beat stronger and faster young opponents.
"Amateur boxing is so much cleaner than professional boxing," he said. "The only thing that matters is hitting with the knuckles of your hand. Anything else is a slap. Amateurs are so clean that any mother or father should be proud of their son.
"I'll tell you, I had a case a little while ago of a parent who wanted her son to fight. I teach this slimnastics class in the evenings and she joined. She asked me to teach her to box so she could teach her son, who was too shy. So I taught her a jab and a right hook." He motioned his arms, demonstrating the moves rapidly, and laughed. "Let me tell you something, she got that hook down pretty damn good.
Of the 35 currently involved in the Center's programs, the most notable is Olympic medalist Leonard.
"Jake deserves it all," Leonard said. "He's the man of faith. We do the running and take the punches, but he's all dedication and sacrifice. Putting discipline into kids, taking them off the streets. He'll show you the basic fundamentals and techniques and then it's up to you to master them. He'll do his job, if you do yours."
Leonard has chosen to remain with Jacobs, using him as trainer and assisting him at the Rubini Center.
"We all worked towards going to the Olympics," Jacobs said proudly."We trained for a style - a clean style. Our fighters worked for international matches. We were ready for them. After the Olympics, we were getting 25-30 calls a day. Personally, I'm glad because when we started here, we weren't looking for anything. It hasn't ended at the Olympic Games either. We've still got fighters to bring up and now we're looking toward a world championship in a couple of years."
Johnny Tibbs is 14. "It's something I want to do," he says, scraping his foot along the floor nervously. "I like to fight. I like to stay in shape. Like to stay in the gym; it keeps my head together. I like to spar rounds. Do all my work that I've got to do in the gym." After six months of training daily at the Center, Johnny has had five fights and won four trophies.
"It was the atmosphere here mostly," said Mike Watts, 19, of Lanham. "They way people were working out. They're really into their moves." Before discovering boxing, the gangly light-heavyweight had tried wrestling, ballet, judo ad karate.
"I'm really involved in physical fitness. When you set a goal in boxing, it's really a goal in physical achievement. There's a lot more formal training in boxing than I found in karate. Both are very demanding sports."
Ken Chevalier is 17. He has been boxing for Dave Jacobs for three years although his left arm and right leg are shriveled from the polio that struck when he was 2.
"He doesn't let it stop him," Jacobs smiled. "He'll do anything I ask of him. I explained to him that I wouldn't take pity on him, but he didn't want you take pity on him. He wanted to learn to box. Kenny's got a lot." Chevalier has an amateur record of 31-6, with 17 knockouts.
"There's a tradeoff of information," Malik Dozier, 25, said. "How to move, to jab, to dodge, counter, how to throw one-two combinations, footwork, reflexes, when to attack, when to retreat, how to hook, speek up or slow down, where to keep your arms, how to cover and protect yourself . . . there's a whole lot to it.
"When it comes to training, it all has to be done in the gym. Like Mr. Jacobs says, 'you might think you're cheating me by not training as hard as you should, but you're hurting yourself. You might need that little bit extra.' He's telling the truth."
"We have a lot of fun," Jacobs said in his small office lined with trophies and photos. "Kids come in just to watch.You always have followers. Sometimes you can't push them out.
"With big bags and sparring, getting them ready in the gym is no problem. It's really no problem working them. Preparing them mentally, each is different. In a fight, I have already prepared them, so I don't worry. But sometimes in a tournament, a fighter has got to fight above himself. Then I'm always sitting with a towel in my hand. If he get hit two or three times, I'll throw in the towel.
"Anyone can step into a ring. The hardest part is working in the gym."