Newall: Charlie and his Harrowgate Boxing Club are in the fight of their lives

Charles 'Charlie' Sgrillo watches from the ropes as 17-year-old Andy Martinez (left) spars with coach Timmy Sinese. Sgrillo has run the famous Harrowgate boxing gym in Kensington for nearly 50 years, training generations of fighters and helping countless kids.

Charlie Sgrillo is not a man of regrets.

But now, with his beloved boxing club hanging in the balance, Charlie will sometimes sit in the quiet of his cramped office and allow himself a moment of self-reproach. Maybe he shouldn't have locked Chuck Diesel out of the gym. Maybe he should have done it by the book.

But Charlie Sgrillo is less a man of the law, and more a man of the handshake.

"F- the law," he had screamed while under oath in a March 2015 deposition.

Charlie was angry. Who could blame him? The former fighter and longtime trainer was in the fight of his life: the fight for Harrowgate Boxing Club, where for nearly half a century he has instructed kids and teens in the art of pugilism. Some kids left the gym to achieve glory as Olympic medalists and world champions. Some just needed a safe place to go after school. Others needed more — a father figure. A home. Charlie offered both.

Charlie, whose embroidered tracksuit jacket reads, "C-H-A-L-I-E," (Cholly!) is 75 and has owned the building for 46 years.

For the last three, he's been battling Chuck "Diesel" Maguire, a trainer who for a time rented the top floor of Charlie's three-story gym on Venango Street.

The deal was made with a handshake. The gym runs as nonprofit, so instead of rent, Diesel and his partner offered a donation: $500 a month.

The pictures that hang on the walls at Harrowgate tell of the gym's past: Charlie as a chiseled, 135-pound lightweight. Charlie as a referee posing with Smokin' Joe. Charlie with his most famous former pupil, WBC welterweight champion Danny Garcia.

Diesel refused comment when I called him.

But hundreds of pages of legal documents give you a picture of the fight that will decide the future of Charlie's gym.

There was a leak upstairs. Alleged missed rent — whoops, donation. Lost equipment. Charlie's partner, John Gallagher, changed the locks.

Chuck Diesel said he didn't get enough notice.

Charlie said he didn't know he had to give it.

Diesel said he lost out on a hundred thousand in missed purses. That made Charlie's eyes roll.

Things got as ugly as a 10-round fight. Charlie was constructed for the ring, not the courtroom.

"Can I be honest with you? F- the law," Charlie said during that deposition.

"Here's the thing. We are trying to do things for kids. This guy is coming in one stinking year, and he's going to try to ruin everything for us."

Charlie stormed out after that, only to return a few moments later to apologize to the stenographer. As a rule, Charlie tries not to swear in front of women.

During the March 2016 trial, crowds of Charlie's supporters packed the City Hall courtroom.

On the stand, Charlie didn't pull any punches.

"Yeah, I'd like to get him and choke him, because he's a weasel," Charlie said. "He shouldn't be 'Diesel,' it should be 'Weasel.'

"I asked him like a gentleman to vacate. I don't know why he can't handle it like a man, and just talk one-on-one," Charlie told the court. "I wasn't doing it by the law because we're regular people doing business."

He asked the jury: "Please don't steal my gym."

The jury ruled for Diesel. A fat purse: $106,000. The crowd broke into boos. Charlie had to be held back from taking a swing.

Charlie's attorney, Steven Marino, is appealing to Superior Court.

Diesel's lawyer, Geoffrey Gompers, put it plainly:

"We want to be paid."

When he wasn't at the gym, Charlie worked as a Teamster and a writ server in Family Court while his wife, Theresa, worked the overnight shift at the Aramingo Diner and took care of their six kids.

"I wouldn't know a hundred thousand dollars if I saw it," Charlie said. If he doesn't pay the judgment, he loses the gym.

The sheriffs were scheduled to come last Friday to clean out everything for auction. The ring, the bags, the pictures on the walls. Charlie's lawyer won a temporary stay. Next, they could be coming for the building itself.

The gym has been crowded lately. With people who say Charlie was there for them, so now they'll be here for him. A lightweight with promise named Adolfo Serrano, a 16-year-old Charlie had taken into his own home when the kid had nowhere else, spoke of him like a father. Charlie's daughter Theresa talked about setting a date for a fund-raiser.

In his office, Charlie recited a motivational prayer he had ripped out from the church bulletin. "Think positively," it said. Then he got up to do what he knows: He began to train the kids who had come to learn how to box, while he still could.

mnewall@phillynews.com

215-854-2759

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