Giving kids a fighting chance: Dino Newville

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    Photo by Alfield Reeves

    Dino Newville knows how to throw a punch. Kick hard. Dance around the ring like a butterfly. He could lay most of us out flat without breaking a sweat. Yet this mixed martial arts champion has a heart for kids and young adults, spending his time and energy encouraging, challenging and urging them to be and do their best.

    Jack boxing in the Floyd Sr. Training Room at Blue’s Gym on the southeast side of Grand Rapids

    As founder of Blue’s Gym in southeast Grand Rapids, Newville has turned his passion for fighting into a passion for bringing out the best in young people.

    “I teach kids to believe in themselves no matter what anybody says,” said Newville, who runs Blue’s Gym with his wife, Sara Newville, and a team of volunteers. “I encourage kids that if they have a dream, to chase that dream and it’ll come true.”

    Newville comes from a family of fighters including his father, Billy Blue, a boxer himself and for whom the gym is named. Newville started young and rose fast. He’s a four-time world kickboxing champion. One of his most famous fights occurred in 1981 in Japan when he defeated his Japanese opponent for the world title in International Team Fighting, now called UFC. At age 19, with broken knuckles and ribs, a broken foot and a hairline fracture of the jaw, plus a broken nose, Newville threw himself back into the ring and won the title.

    Then-Grand Rapids Mayor Abe Drasin declared Jan. 27, 1981, Dino Newville Day to honor his achievement. Mayors since then have kept up the declaration, including current Mayor Rosalynn Bliss.

    Gym history
    Dino Newville opened his first gym, called Stockbridge Gym, above Salvatore’s Restaurant on Stocking Ave. NW in 1998. His dream began when he was hit on the head during a street altercation. “I died instantly. They said I was dead, but I could see myself. Then I saw a silhouette of light —it was God giving me another chance. He put me back in my body,” Newville recalled. “I said, Lord, use me any way you want to use me. I stopped drinking and going to bars.”

    A short time later, he opened his gym. After several years above Salvatore’s, he moved and renamed his business Blue’s Gym in space across from Belknap Park, then to Burlingame and 28th Street SW. Finally, about 10 years ago, he saw the building at 4248 Kalamazoo Ave. SE and knew it was the new space for Blue’s Gym, which offers memberships for those who wish to use the training facilities along with programming for kids. Several rooms also are available to rent for outside events.

    Its 21,000 square feet include a weight room, boxing gym, wrestling room, learning center, education room and prayer room. Thanks to donations, a new art room and counseling room are being renovated by teams of volunteers. Newville figures there are about 500 kids each week in the building for after-school programs and to use the learning center and gym spaces. Kids Open Gym on Saturday from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. brings in kids ages 4-17 for exercise and inspiration at no cost. Kids ages 8-15 can sign up for summer programs, which include prayer and educational guidance plus coaching in boxing and wrestling.

    “I tell the boys and girls that I want them to be able to defend themselves,” said Newville. “I don’t want them to take what I teach them and be violent, but to defend themselves and not be bullied. If a bully comes at you and you put your head down, they’ll come at you. But I teach them to stand tall and give the bully a stern look.”

    He doesn’t ever want to see bullying and encourages kids to help others who are being bullied. He doesn’t encourage fighting, instead urging his young listeners to pull the kids away from the bully and move away.

    Dino’s wife, Sara, works closely with him at the gym. They met in 2011 and married in 2016, “and we’ve never been apart since we met,” Sara Newville said. “Dino’s message is that he wants to keep kids off the streets by giving them something to do with that extra energy, giving them goals and dreams. So many kids come back and say thank you to Dino.”

    Volunteers keep Blue’s Gym running
    Blue’s Gym depends on the many volunteers who help train in boxing and wrestling, teach reading skills, offer counseling, and tutoring help with homework. Ed Cullivan owns Artistically Inclined (www.artistically-inclined.com), a Coopersville-based small business that creates murals, vehicle wraps, and all manner of graphics for businesses and nonprofits. Cullivan was contacted by The Fixers, a television show streaming on BYUtv, to create a mural for an episode they were filming about Blue’s Gym for which they redid several rooms in the building.

    “After that project, I stayed and volunteered for four hours every Monday,” said Cullivan. “I saw Dino treat everyone like family and saw the programs he created to keep kids off the street. It inspired me to keep being involved.”  Soon he was on the gym’s board, where he continues to serve.

    “What inspired me most about Dino was his commitment. At age 19 he went across the world and got in the ring with a broken body and still fought,” said Cullivan. “Years later, when I was helping with the television show and had broken ribs from a motorcycle crash, I thought, ‘What would Dino do?’ He really brings credibility to the programs.”

    Tim Van Antwerp has been a school therapist and mentor at Arbor Circle and is now an independent support coordinator for adults, and lends his expertise on a volunteer basis each Wednesday to help those who come into Blue’s Gym. “I make myself available for people with questions and who need resources,” he said, adding the gym has become a resource hub for the community.

    “Dino is a very engaging guy, and I love the transformation he went through in his life,” said Van Antwerp. “I know he loves the kids and loves engaging with them. I have a military background, so I understand the value of that kind of training, especially for at-risk kids. Dino offers that kind of training and values.”

    Volunteers do everything from training to teaching wrestling, from tutoring in reading and math to cleaning, from handing out gloves and hats to distributing food donations. One recent donation was time spent building bookshelves for the many donated books. Volunteers also do fundraising and other support services. Newville himself even took to the ring one more time in November 2021, raising $21,000 to help the many kids who find a home at Blue’s Gym.

    Dino Newville has found a home there as well, bringing in police officers and military personnel to talk with the young people, encouraging every child who walks in the door looking for something to do. He’s considering a leadership training program and is constantly speaking at churches and schools.

    “I want to teach the kids to have confidence,” he said. “I just want to give and help people.”

    Blue’s Gym, a nonprofit entity, works with other nonprofits and businesses to help the community by giving back what is given to them. Areas of need include:

    • Monetary donations for operating costs (the biggest expense is power to heat and cool the large building) and equipment.
    • Corporate sponsorships
    • Volunteers

    “First, come and see what we do,” Newville said.

    Visit the website at www.bluesgymgr.org to learn more or donate.

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