The Kronk produces many uncrowned champions

2/2/2006 - Boxing

What I remember most about the first time I walked into the Kronk Recreation Center was the heat.

It was always that way. It was kept hot in the winter with a thermostat on high and the same in the summer with closed doors and windows. This made it easier for fighters to lose weight and harder for them to make choices, at least the right ones.

The sparring sessions in Philadelphia gyms are legendary; the ones in this Detroit club were gothic and everyday. At first there were amateur stars, then later world champions -- many of them.

There was famous trainer and now commentator Emanuel Stewart, and there were many other lesser-known trainers such as Taylor Smith, Luther Burgess and Bill Miller. These guys often were not seen on television but were always in the gym, with the fighters and the kids.

And they needed to be there because there were always lots of kids. That's how it is when there are many housing projects and not many fields or swimming pools. Kids find gyms, boxing houses.

In the inner city, politicians ask for money to run programs, to keep the kids off the streets, to save them. But in the end it's the boxing trainer -- the one quietly buying an extra bag of groceries and then teaching the jab and the hook -- who winds up with the kids after those programs go away.

They replace missing fathers and helpless mothers. They teach discipline and respect to a kid who sometimes lacks both.

They give these young people reasons to care about themselves and in turn the ability to care about others. They teach them how to punch and how to protect themselves.

The kids learn to defend jabs and straight rights. The kids also learn to cope with insecurity, excuses, hate and drugs. The kids learn how to avoid hooks, uppercuts, even prison.

The trainers show the kids how to commit to something and the reasons the kids should have goals.

And with all this training, all this knowledge, many kids still do not become champions. But many of them will become men.

There are many people who will never understand this kind of education. They have never had their reason to exist questioned. They have never wished they were dead.

These people who question the value of a boxing education have never seen the rage of crack reach out and kill a family member.

These people would not mourn the closing of one of these gyms the way they might bemoan the shuttering of an opera house or a landmark saloon.

Their regret will show only in the math, the added numbers of youth grabbed by the streets.

The Kronk, which has been operating for 30 years, is in danger of closing due to lack of funding. I believe the city of Detroit and the people who decide on such things have the power and the resources to keep the doors open.

I was told recently that one of those people who has the power was heard to say of the Kronk, "There really hasn't been a new champion out of that gym for some time anyway."

The true shame is that he and others like him don't know that there are champions walking out of there each day, only they don't own a title belt or even a house. But they have a stride in their step that says they know where they're going.

That's something they didn't always have. That's something that's about to be taken away.

Teddy Atlas is a former trainer who also serves as an analyst on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."

Learn more about the Kronk at www.kronkgym.com