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9153: Brotherly gloves (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Brotherly gloves
By Sharon Robb

September 17, 2001

HOLLYWOOD· Azea Augustama watched his younger brother, Elie, play with the 
trophies and medals Azea would bring home after amateur fights. He knew it 
was only a matter of time before Elie, too, started boxing.

"He is following in my footsteps," Azea said. "I told him he better be good. 
Those were pretty big shoes to fill. He had to live up to the family name."

Eleven years ago, Jean and Cilia Augustama and seven of their children, ages 
2-19, left Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and moved into a two-bedroom house in 
North Miami Beach. Five other children stayed behind with relatives.

The Augustamas wanted a better life, good schools and career opportunities 
for their children. They never dreamed two sons would get an education in 

The brothers have flourished in the ring. What started as a way to defend 
themselves in the streets of Haiti has turned into promising amateur 
careers. They captured titles in their weight classes at the recent National 
Golden Gloves Tournament in Las Vegas.

The last siblings to do so were Michael and Leon Spinks in 1975.

While their lives are centered on family and school, boxing is beginning to 
play a big role. Both are students at North Miami Beach Senior High and 
train at Hollywood PAL gym. They speak English most of the time but Creole 
when they fuss around.

"They are very family-oriented," said the brothers' trainer, Tony 
Betancourt. "They don't have a lot, but there is a lot of love in that 
house. There is always a big pot of something good cooking on the stove.

"This is better than what they had. They have a house. They have running 
water in the house as opposed to having it set up in the backyard. They have 
electricity and modern basic necessities, just in a small amount. There's 
just not a lot of abundance to waste."

Cilia Augustama wakes at 4:30 in the morning to cook for her family before 
she leaves at 6 to work at a nearby hotel.

"I have a lot of respect for her," Betancourt said. "She has a lot of kids 
and she takes care of them."

Jean Augustama works construction.

"They make the best of what they have," Betancourt said. "What you don't 
have, you don't miss. I know the brothers want nice things for their family. 
That's why they are striving so hard to make it in boxing. They might not 
become multimillionaires, but they will be successful."

Azea Augustama learned how to defend himself at an early age. He started 
street fighting because he was big for his age and everyone wanted to take 
him on.

"I didn't have the experience, but I knew I could box. I was a tough kid," 
Augustama said. "I wanted to learn the right technique. People would tell me 
I was good. That made me want to work harder. I have always dreamed about 
buying my mom and dad a house. This is what I will do."

With only a year's experience and three fights under his belt, Azea won a 
bronze medal at the Silver Gloves National Championships in Kansas City at 

"I knew I was going to be good, but I didn't know I was going to be this 
good," he said.

At 17, Azea is 16-3 and ranked No. 3 in the nation in the 178-pound 
division. His only losses have been at the national level. He has two 
national titles. He also won the National PAL title.

Because Azea is not a citizen, he is not allowed to box in any U.S. Olympic 
qualifying tournaments, though he was invited to train with elite athletes 
at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Elie Augustama, 14, has compiled a 7-0 record in less than two years in the 
148-pound division. He won his first title in his national tournament debut.

"My brother inspired me to get into boxing because I saw how good he was 
doing and I wanted to do good, too," Elie said. "I know he is better than 
me. He is bigger and faster than me. He is teaching me. All my brothers help 
me. They toughen me up around the house.

"Boxing helps my self-esteem. I want to go to the Olympics and be champion 
of the world. Money and cars don't interest me that much. I would like to 
move my mom and dad into a nice house and make their big dreams come true. 
It's great we came to America because now I have all this opportunity and 
goals to set. Back in Haiti, I wasn't so sure what I wanted to do."

Elie tried basketball first, but he "didn't put the effort into it" that he 
does in boxing.

He spends much of his time minding his brothers, Matthew, 3, and Isaac, 8.

"The younger brother saw the success of the older brother and wanted to get 
involved," Betancourt said. "For most kids, boxing is a way out of poverty 
and the hard times. But for these kids it's like being the star quarterback 
on the high school football team.

"I don't think they are looking down the road so much. They feel like 
champions now among their peers. It's the pride within."

Betancourt, a former lightweight and three-time national qualifier, and 
Jerry Christiansen, a Hollywood police detective and head of the Hollywood 
PAL program, have worked with Azea for three years. Azea offered to work for 
Betancourt's painting business for free if he taught him how to box. Elie 
followed a year-and-a-half later.

Because both parents work long hours, Betancourt, who lives a few blocks 
away, picks up the brothers and drives from North Miami Beach to Hollywood 
four nights a week.

"I think all the kids in that neighborhood want to box," Betancourt said. 
"If I had a bus I would probably bring them all."

The 6-foot Elie Augustama shows as much promise as his brother did at the 
same age.

"Elie saw what his brother was getting into, the traveling and seeing 
different places and started boxing," Christiansen said.

"He is excellent. He has a long reach and a great jab. They are both very 
talented athletes. They have the body. They are powerful and tall and have 
all the tools."

It's been hard finding fights at Florida Gold Coast shows. No one wants to 
go toe-to-toe with the Haitian brothers, according to Betancourt. That's the 
frustrating part. Most of the nation's top amateurs have close to 100 bouts.

Because of the lack of coaches and gyms in Haiti, there are few boxers. The 
brothers, particularly Azea, are the talk of Haiti. If not granted U.S. 
citizenship, he could compete for Haiti in the 2004 Olympics in Athens -- if 
he qualifies and if the country's federation has enough money to send him.

"Azea is determined," Betancourt said. "He has heart. Physically, he is 
overwhelming for a 17-year-old. He is a perfect specimen with astronomical 
power. Whatever he hits is falling. I know the guy is young, but he has the 
talent. He listens to what you tell him. He wants to learn the right way. He 
is a smart kid.

"When he told me he would work for free just to learn to box, it broke my 

Betancourt didn't take Azea up on the offer.

"You could tell this was a kid who wanted to box," he said. "Then his 
brother came in one day. They are both disciplined, willing to put all their 
time into working out. They have great genetics. Even their little brothers 
are big kids. Who knows? Maybe a few more Augustamas will come through those 
doors before it's all over."

Sharon Robb can be reached at srobb@sun-sentinel.com.

Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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