A TRUE champion of grass roots sport and community engagement has been named Middlesbrough’s Citizen of the Year for 2016.

Tony Whitby received the accolade at a special ceremony at Middlesbrough Town Hall on Thursday (April 13).

He was nominated for the honour by Val Gibson who described him as ‘totally dedicated’ and a ‘fantastic volunteer’.

Mr Whitby founded the Middlesbrough Amateur Boxing Club (ABC) more than 15 years ago to offer boxing opportunities to young people from the local community.

The club promotes values of discipline and respect, as well as encouraging healthy lifestyles and offering alternatives to crime and anti-social behaviour.

ABC boxers recently won three gold medals at the Haringey Boxing Cup at the Alexandra Palace in London, and narrowly missed out on being crowned top team in the annual end of season competition.

In her nomination Val wrote: “Tony is totally dedicated to supporting young people, offering them a positive fitness outlet and the support to help them achieve their potential and their goals in life.

“The club helps to increase self-esteem and enhance lives, and the participation of young people has helped to relieve some of the anti-social behaviour in North Ormesby.

“He is very professional and a fantastic volunteer who has raised thousands of pounds in funding to buy equipment, and pay for transport and hotel fees needed for competitions.”

Tony, 57, said: “I never expected anything like this, so I’d just like to thank everyone involved with the club, Val for nominating me and the Mayor for giving me the award.

“Boxing can make a real difference, and the satisfaction for me over the years has been in seeing it help young people grow and develop.”

Middlesbrough Mayor Dave Budd, who presented Tony with his award at a reception in the Town Hall, said: “Grass roots sport plays a vital role in communities across the town, but it only succeeds thanks to the dedication and commitment of people like Tony Whitby.

“Over the last 15 years Tony’s hard work has helped create a club that is a shining example of community engagement and partnership working.

“Boxing helps to instil in young people values of respect and discipline which will stand them in good stead throughout their lives.

“Tony’s contribution to his local community and the town as a whole has been truly outstanding, and he is a thoroughly deserving winner of this year’s Citizen of the Year award.”