BRISTOL – The Bristol Sports Armory continues to provide sporting outlets for area families and organizations, especially in a time when many feel isolated by the pandemic. But it doesn’t stop with local events.
The Armory will host the National Collegiate Boxing Association’s Eastern Region National Qualifier for male and female boxers March 11-13. The event will feature approximately 100 boxers seeking to advance to the national tournament in North Carolina.
“This is only the second time this regional qualifier will be held in Connecticut,” Tournament Coordinator Mike Campisano said. Campisano is also the head boxing coach at the University of Connecticut.
“The event will be great for the Bristol and Southington area economy since, while here, visitors will stay in local hotels, dine in local restaurants, shop and enjoy nearby attractions,” said Robert Murdock, president of the Connecticut Convention & Sports Bureau.
But the Bristol Sports Armory is still very much a place for young, local athletes to play the sports they love.
“At the end of the day, what’s most important? Kids,” Bristol Sports Armory co-owner Bunty Ray said. “The kids need their mental health and well-being and exercise and that’s not going away.”
The business began in 2019 after a trio of coaches reached out to building owner George Carpenter and then-Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu about putting in a multi-use facility at 61 Center St.
The space was formerly used by the National Guard and opened in 1928 to serve as a home to local units. It has played host as a venue to a variety of events over the decades and was home to the city military museum, which opened in 1978 before moving to the Bristol Historical Society in 2008. The building had been vacant once the Connecticut National Guard’s 102nd Infantry moved out at the same time in welcoming the new business.
“It’s mainly dedicated to sports. All three of us (owners) are teachers and coaches,” Ray said. “Chris D’Amato, he’s done a lot in the community and used to be a coach. Bob McMahon was a coach at Thomaston (High School). I’m a three-sport head coach in town between the three high schools.”
Ray said the three had a vision with the old armory.
“It was just sitting there and nothing was being used so we went in and George Carpenter did a great job of allowing us to go in and have the ability to close off the gym portion of it. There was a lot of work to make it compliant, but once we were done, we were off and running,” Ray said. “We wanted to make it for more than one sport.”
Bristol Mayor Jeff Caggiano, Councilwoman Jaqueline Olsen, Councilman Andrew Howe, Councilwoman Susan Tyler; and Economic and Community Development Board Commissioner Dave Mills recently toured the facility to hear developments from Armory leadership.
“We’re able to be successful because of our ties to the community,” Ray said. “We bring back former players as instructors, and the people that know us know we put out quality instruction.”
For three months out of the year, turf is laid in the sports facility, and the other times it is rolled back to reveal a basketball court that can be used for a variety of activities. The facility has worked with Bristol’s Little League teams, soccer clubs, area schools, the Boys & Girls Club of Bristol as well as the Bristol Parks, Recreation, Youth and Community Services Department, he said. Dropdown nets help segment the space when being used by multiple entities.
The Bristol Sports Armory makes use of around 12,000 square feet of the over 40,000 square foot building.
“I’ve done camps for years and in various locations,” Ray said. “It was nice to centralize them. We run teams out of the (Bristol Sports Armory) but mainly we wanted to get more youth programs in there.”
He said it wasn’t uncommon for the facility to be rented for various activities and fundraisers. It’s not uncommon to see clients utilizing the space as an exercise gym for weight training and other exercises. The Armory holds youth sporting camps, provides private training opportunities, CrossFit, batting cages and more.
“We had some bad timing with covid and we had to shut down for a bit but rallied pretty soon,” Ray said. “At some point, we would be looking to expand when we outgrow, but we wouldn’t leave the Armory. We’re a very community-centered facility because of our ties.”
When some of the pandemic restrictions were lifted, the facility opened again last summer. Ray said many nights are booked at the facility, but days are often open. The facility does everything it can to maintain pandemic-related legal compliance and operates under many of the same rules as other gym organizations.
“I think a sports complex downtown could be a great entertainment venue that will drive traffic downtown,” Caggiano said. “As we heard from our recent presentation by Mike Goman, the need for non-retail options is a longer term trend that we should leverage, if we can.”
The mayor references a recent presentation made by consulting firm Goman+York regarding the changing landscape of Bristol’s downtown.
“The city is happy to partner with the Bristol Sports Armory, as it provides a unique space for indoor recreation and events,” Bristol Economic and Community Development Director Justin Malley said. “Critically, Bristol Sports Armory’s location downtown supports city efforts to bring energy to the city center.”