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Cross-training helps Lexington tennis star Alex Griebling earn second state berth

Cross-training helps Lexington tennis star earn second state berth


1:00 AM, Oct. 16, 2013 EDT

Lexington's state-qualifying tennis player Alex Griebling, known in the gym for her pink boxing gloves, with her grandfather and former boxer, Bill McCumiskey in Mickey Scodova's Boxing and Kickboxing Gym. / Jason J. Molyet/News Journal

LEXINGTON — 

They look like giant wads of bubblegum, stuck to a set of hands. But once the initial shock wears off, it's not the pink boxing gloves that grab your attention inside Mickey Scodova's no-frills -- and, certainly, no-lace -- gym.

It's the girl wearing them.

Never mind that the pastel gloves clash with Alex Griebling's fiery red hair and fierce competitive streak. The story here is that Lexington's two-time state-qualifying tennis player is wearing boxing gloves at all.

"I love sparring," she said. "It's the best part of my Saturday."

The Lex junior began working with Scodova the summer before her freshman tennis season. Some teammates have also done some cross-training with the former national kick-boxing champion, but "Big Al" is the most devoted, even when obstacles -- and there have been plenty -- are thrown in her path.

"She gets the most of her ability, no doubt about it," Scodova said. "I've worked with a lot of tennis players over the years; they're dedicated and work hard. They do as much as other athletes I train, even more."

Griebling didn't just stumble upon Scodova's basement/garage gym on Lexington Avenue in Mansfield. She was led there by her grandfather, Bill McCumiskey, who received his yellow belt in Tae Kwon Do at age 50 while training with Scodova.

McCumiskey grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., just four blocks from Ebbets Field, where he rooted for Dodgers great Jackie Robinson and the rest of the legendary "Boys of Summer."

His story reads like something out of a pulp sports novel: An Irish kid, boxing out of a couple very ethnic neighborhood gyms in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Flatbush -- later popularized by the Sylvester Stallone movie "The Lords of Flatbush" -- and competing for the 72nd Precinct in Police Athletic League fight shows.

No one would be prouder of Griebling's work in the ring and on the heavy bag than Barney Adair, McCumiskey's uncle and a N.Y. boxer who had a 41-31-10 record as a pro welterweight.

When his job as a salesman brought McCumiskey and his family to north central Ohio, they started playing tennis at Lakewood Racquet Club. That's where he met Scodova, who was training some clients inside the club.

Eventually, Scodova settled in his own place, providing an environment that brought back great memories for McCumiskey.

"It was like deja vu," he said. "The darkness, the smell ... it wasn't the Y or Planet Fitness. It's just an old-time gym. Anybody who goes there, you know why they're there. You're not there to be seen or look pretty. You go there to work out."

McCumiskey's three kids Terry (Alex's mom), Katie (head teaching pro at a tennis club in Akron) and Will all played tennis for Lexington and the girls took self-defense classes from Scodova, so Griebling has followed in their footsteps -- and grandpa's.

"He was always good friends with Mickey, and I was impressed with the high-intensity workouts and thought they could get me in shape for tennis," Griebling said. "I watched people box and thought it was cool, but after my first day of training with Mickey I could barely walk to the car."

Griebling did some one-on-one work with Scodova for three months before joining a group of trainees.

"I like boxing more than kickboxing," she said. "I'm not very flexible, but I like to throw a punch. It's weird, hitting someone and getting hit back is sort of like tennis. You and your opponent are equal when you step on the court or step in the ring."

Cathy McCumiskey wasn't crazy about her granddaughter boxing, so they reached a compromise: pink gloves.

"I want her to protect herself, but I don't want her to get hit," she said about coming up with the unusual Christmas gift. "I still want her to be a lady. I think the pink gloves make a statement."

Yeah, the wrong one at first.

"I could have gotten black ones, but grandma said I was a little girl so I have to have pink," Griebling said, rolling her eyes. "I thought, 'Oh, man, this is going to be rough. This isn't going to go down well. It's not going to be good for my reputation.'"

As it turns out, Griebling became something of a fashion forerunner in the gym.

"She's started a trend," Scodova said, smirking. "A couple of other girls are wearing them now. What am I going to say?"

Lex tennis coach Ron Schaub knows better than to say anything.

"She might punch me and coach Rob (Michels, Schaub's assistant)," he said, laughing. "I don't think anyone wants to mess with her. She's our version of (MMA star) Ronda Rousey. If she wants to play with a pink racket, we won't say a thing."

She battled back from nose and throat surgery in 2011, played two matches on a broken ankle in last year's state team tournament, helping Lex to a three-peat, and has recovered from micro-tears and tendinitis in her right Achilles to reach this weekend's OHSAA state tournament in doubles for the second straight year with partner Nicole Dragos.

Griebling feels the training base established with Scodova has helped her recuperate faster from her setbacks and made her a better tennis player.

"Absolutely, it's made a big difference in my game," she said. "I'm faster, I can go a lot longer, and I'm stronger."

Strong-minded, too. Not everyone can pull off pink boxing gloves.

"The impressive thing about her is she's also a 4.0 student," Scodova said. "She's my example that you can be a hard-working athlete and also a great student. You can do both.

"She's never given me a hard way to go, except for those pink gloves ... and I blame those on her grandma."

 

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