Boxers find a home

Published 8:32 pm Saturday, July 30, 2011

Loveless Craig and Adrian Richardson help move an weight bench and other items from the former Phoenix School building Saturday. More than 20 youth and adult volunteers helped to clean up the building that will be used for a future boxing facility beginning next week. -- Desiree Taylor

When most children are spending their Saturday mornings watching their favorite cartoons, area students traded in their TV remotes for T-shirts and shorts and got their hands dirty instead.

Local boxer Robert Dower, along with Selma residents and Selma City Council Ward 8 representative Corey Bowie, took time out to clean up the former Phoenix School building Saturday, with plans to use it as a boxing training facility.

Dower, who is a registered trainer, referee and Judge with USA Boxing and former fighter, said he hopes to open the center next week.

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“We’ll be out here until we get everything done,” Dower said. “My cousin donated some paint (to us) … we’re going to pressure wash everything down (and) clean it from ground up.”

The building, which housed the former Selma Youth Development Center and a boxing area, is where Dower began his boxing career in the early to mid 1990s. The sport, Dower said, is a great venue to attract children, especially at-risk youth.

“This is where I trained and competed … it’s a perfect spot,” Dower said. “It was a safe haven … it’s been a positive response from the community. Most of the young men are interested (in boxing) because it’s something different.”

And even though Dower hopes to make an impact with the facility, he is in dire need of funds.

“Right now we’re on a zero budget,” Dower said. “We don’t have any equipment. We’re calling out to the public.”

Dower said he’s already received some donations such as weights and an exercise machine, but there’s still so much more needed.

“Punching bags are expensive, we need a ring … supplies,” Dower said. “Wood, rope, canvas, ring posts, gloves, hand wraps. We definitely need jump ropes. It’s expensive, but it’s worth it.”

Bowie is fully supportive of Dower’s efforts in helping his community.

“This gives another outlet for the youths in Ward 8,” Bowie said in a previous interview with the Times-Journal. “It teaches discipline, attitude and teamwork. I thank Robert for having deep care for the kids and the ward.”

Napolean Cleveland, 31, has boxed for 13 years and hopes to box professionally. From a broken home, Cleveland started attending the center at the age of 10. It as an opportunity, Cleveland said, to get off the streets.

“The gym caught my eye — it taught me motivation and discipline, it gave me something to do because I was tired of the streets,” Cleveland said. “It brings the best out of you.”

Cleveland’s ultimate goal is to pass on the knowledge he gained from the center to Ward 8 youth. He thinks the center is beneficial overall.

“I want to help get them (kids) off the street …the kids, they need this,” Cleveland said. “It aint a lot of stuff out there for them, and a lot of kids’ parents don’t have the money to put kids in expensive, high-tech programs.

“I’m tired of seeing kids die on the street and sell drugs. This gives them something constructive to do.

“People give boxing a bad name and only look at the negative instead of the positive,” Cleveland said. “I learned not just about boxing, but about life … I thank God I got involved in the sport at a young age.”

Dower agrees that boxing gives youth the tools to be successful.

“It teaches you … to work hard, to get what you need out of life.”

Dallas County High student Semaj King has been training with Dower for two months. With strenuous workouts that include running 10 laps and doing three-minute sit-ups and “burnout drills” on a Punching bag, King stressed the importance of the sport.

“Think about the finish,” King said. “If you work hard now, it will be easy in the end.”
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