Fighting to help youth: Boxing club gives kids a chance to compete, find themselves
By MARK KLAAS
Kent Reporter Regional Editor
October 25, 2012 · 1:12 PM
The heavy doors often stay open in Glenn Hamada's makeshift youth boxing gym in Kent, serving as an invitation and a pathway to kids.
They come from all walks – working-class families to broken homes – many with big dreams, others without guidance.
They come and go before Hamada's eyes. A judge of more than 70 world title fights, Hamada is a coach and mentor to those who pass his way. He works, encourages and corrects those who step into the ring for the first time.
Hamada never knows who might walk through the doors tomorrow, yet he is willing to give them an opportunity.
It's just the nature of the difficult-to-grasp craft, a sometimes not so sweet science for young fighters.
But most importantly, for Hamada, boxing is an outlet to teach discipline and control.
"This is what it is, and most of these kids are good," Hamada said while keeping close watch on his young boxers as they skip rope and punch bags at the Kent East Hill Boxing Club last week. "Lot of times we get real street kids, and I welcome them, too. They come and go."
Such was a kid from Ukraine.
In a desire to learn and excel at the sport, the devoted teen routinely walked – rain or shine – a few miles from his family's East Hill apartment to reach the gym that's tucked inside the back of the Kent Phoenix Academy facility.
The boy trained relentlessly, dropping 45 pounds to emerge a hardened 190-pound fighter. The "nice kid" had an upside, Hamada said.
Then it all stopped. The boy's family fortunes changed. The father lost his construction job. Money ran out. The family returned to the Ukraine.
It's a familiar plight for many kids under Hamada's watch. Some of his young boxers drop out of school, others become victimized by a struggling, transient community.
Recognizing this, Hamada, who boxed a little as a kid, has reached out to connect a few instructional punches with youth.
It's a newfound role, and one the 69-year-old former Marine welcomes.
"The reason why we started this was to change the focus on our changing demographics of our community," Hamada said. "When I moved to Kent (in 1982) there were few minority people living here. But if you look at it Kent-Meridian (High School), it's about 70-percent minority."
Hamada's group personifies a challenged, ethnically mixed neighborhood looking to stay off the ropes.
To help get kids off the street and involved into something constructive, Glenn and Leslie Hamada approached city and Kent School District leaders to establish a youth boxing program more than a year ago.
The club took a few years in the making, from concept to fruition, but Leslie Hamada insisted on providing something positive, something healthy for kids. As a mentor of high-risk youth in public schools for 40 years, she was instrumental in making the club possible. Her husband is working to ensure its continuity.
"It's much more than a boxing club with our desire," said Leslie Hamada, the executive director of the program.
Through grants and generous donations, the fledgling club stands today.
The impact, the club's success can be measured in smiles and good results. A corps of kids has stuck with the club since it took root.
Some teens have become more accountable and willing to finish what they have started – in and out of the gym.
"One thing I can say since we started this program ... some kids have dropped a lot of weight. Bottom line, they are healthy," Glenn Hamada said.
"But if there's one over-lining thing we try to do, it is to encourage them to get their GED," he said. "Some of these kids don't graduate from high school."
Logan "Red" Haylor is working to finish school. He wants to join the Marines. To prepare for that day, he has put on the gloves. He comes to the gym to be with friends, learn a few jabs and take instruction from Hamada.
"I heard that boxing was a ticket to the Marines, so I figured boxing would be something I'd be good at," said the 16-year-old Haylor. "I've experience it. I've found that I'm pretty good at it."
Ray Henry, a 140-pound counterpunching prodigy, plans to go to college and pursue a career in the medical field. Boxing, as he sees it, is a means to get there, reminding him the values of persistence and hard work.
"I always had an interest in boxing, and this was my opportunity and just accepted it," Henry said. "(Coach Hamada) has taught me a lot of discipline, to focus a lot on life and keep motivated and disciplined."
While not everyone will succeed here, Hamada is encouraged by those who do.
"It just tickles me that they've taken it very seriously," he said of his boys. "I'm looking forward to the day they graduate. When they graduate that's just a big plus in their lives."
Hamada, who retired after a long career in management, doesn't know how much longer he will go as the club's trainer.
"I hope eventually, because of my age, that a younger guy eventually comes and takes this," he said. "It's a good program, and these are good kids."
"Thrillah On East Hillah"
Kent-Meridian hosts "Thrillin In East Hillin," an amateur boxing card from 5:30-9 p.m. Saturday in the school gymnasium, 10020 S.E. 256th St.
The USA/PNW-sanctioned event has scheduled 12-15 rounds of boxing.
State Sen. Joe Fain and Rep. Mark Hargrove are among the dignitaries expected to appear.
All donations go directly to help the Kent East Hill Boxing Club and youth programming.
Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children.
For more information, visit www.kenteasthillboxing.com.
PHOTO BELOW: Glenn Hamada gives instructions during for a punching bag drill. Charles Cortez, Kent Reporter
Contact Kent Reporter Regional Editor Mark Klaas at firstname.lastname@example.org or 253-872-6600, ext. 27-5050.