By his own admission, John Dryden was a “scallywag” as a child, but boxing helped put him on the straight and narrow – and he’s spent much of his life passing on the magic of the sport to young Teessiders.
Now, having run Stockton’s Wellington Amateur Boxing Club for 30 years, his huge contribution to the lives of hundreds of young boxers has been recognised with a well-deserved Teesside Hero Award.
Charity Teesside Philanthropic Foundation presents the awards to unsung community champions, volunteers who go above and beyond the call of duty to help make the area an even better place to live.
Great grandfather John, 79, received his award in a surprise presentation from one of his former boxing pupils, Alisdair Beveridge, the owner of local firm, The Build Directory, who are patrons of the Philanthropic Foundation.
“It’s so nice of people to do this,” said Middlesbrough-born John, who lives in Overfields. “They must think I’m doing a decent job, which is appreciated. I don’t get paid for running the club.
“Boxing helped form me and has always been a big part of my life, so this is my way of giving something back.
“Like most sports, boxing can give young people confidence in life. I get kids who’ve been bullied at school and their parents will tell me they’ve changed for the better.
“Others, like I was when I was a kid, are scallywags but boxing helps to keep them off the streets.”
John first took up boxing at Billingham Synthonia when living in Haverton Hill when he was just 11 years old. He went on to become a Northumberland and Durham champion before later boxing for the Army.
Whilst working in the steelworks, as a long distance driver for ICI and for 20 years on Teesside docks, John’s love for boxing never left him.
He first started coaching at North Ormesby Boxing Club in the 1970s before setting up Welling Boxing Club in the late 1980s.
Among the hundreds of young boxers to have been inspired by John via his club are 1998 Commonweath Games gold medallist John Pearce, current unbeaten professional and ABA champion Josh Leather, his brother and fellow professional Callum Leather, plus Brian Graham and Graham O’Malley, who went on to become top class professionals,
Others included New Zealand national champion Frankie Cunningham, Australian amateur champion Ben Johnson, NABC finalist Neal Johnson, NABC champion Carl Blenkinsop, ABA finalist Nathan Thompson, NABC champions Peter Martin and Lewis Cunningham plus England Ladies international Nicola Owens, ABA champion Molly Jo Watson and ABA finalist Jade Pearce
And former schoolboy and junior champions Anthony Hoe, Steven Davies, Peter Conner, Vernon Ferguson, Tony Robinson, Tom Blenkinsop and junior Olympic silver medallist Chris Riley.
He continues to run the club at least three times a week with the support of volunteers John Pearce, Chris Riley, Rob McMurray and Steve Hollingsworth.
Despite approaching his 80th birthday, John has no plans for retirement from the sport he loves. “Not yet!” he quips. “What’s the point in retiring? It’s a big commitment but it makes it all worthwhile knowing the difference it makes to people’s lives.”
Businessman Alisdair Beveridge, who nominated John for the Teesside Hero Award, paid tribute, calling him a “local living legend and shepherd to people”.
He said: “John has undoubtedly played a huge part in giving direction to kids from lots of different backgrounds. I nominated John on behalf of the many he has shepherded through to safety over the years.
“The Welly has given many a place to find focus and direction. Over the years I’ve witnessed countless kids blossom and transform from shy or angry into healthy, happy, calm and confident individuals, hungry to succeed.
“John and Wellington ABC are renowned for building boxers and, if you dig a little deeper, good people.
“Many of the former boxers attribute many of their successes in and out of the boxing ring to the foundations of determination, discipline, attitude and brotherhood they learned under John’s tutelage.”
Along with a trophy and a voucher for Mohujo’s restaurant, John’s award included £1,000 for a Teesside good cause of his own choice, which he has naturally donated to his beloved Wellington Club.