Tacoma Boxing Club looks for new home

After 36 years at its Hilltop location, the storied Tacoma Boxing Club needs to find a new home.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound, which houses the boxers at its Al Davies facility, plan to replace the boxing rings with a second basketball court to accommodate more teens in what the club says is a more popular basketball program.

Grant money funding the renovation came with a tight deadline, so the boxing club must be out by Oct. 1.

The club was part of the Al Davies Boys & Girls Club until two years ago, when the clubs were financially separated because fewer Boys & Girls Clubs members were interested in boxing, said Al Davies Branch Director Sierra Raynor. However, the Boys & Girls Clubs allowed the boxers to stay in the Hilltop location rent-free. Until now.

The boxing club learned Aug. 16 that it had to move. Coach Emmett Linton said the news came as an “absolute surprise.”

“It is heartbreaking news and also very devastating that we’ve only been given until the end of September to relocate,” the boxing club posted on Facebook “We have been given just a month and a half to figure out where to move a 36-year program.”

Dozens of people responded, expressing condolences and ideas for future locations for the boxing club. The post has been shared nearly 400 times.

Boys & Girls Clubs officials say they learned July 8 that they were awarded a $50,000 grant from their national organization for a new basketball court at Al Davies, one of four Boys & Girls Clubs branches in Tacoma. Officials learned July 22 that the grant money must be spent by Jan. 15, 2017, said Jinnie Horan, their director of marketing and communications.

The short notice, combined with the need to coordinate schedules with the boxing club, meant that the first meeting happened Aug 16.

“I think we definitely understand the history (of the club) … this is an opportunity we really couldn’t pass up as far as serving more teens in the Hilltop community,” Horan said.

The new basketball gym space — 6,400 square feet currently occupied by the boxing club — will accommodate another 75 kids a day. An estimated 140 kids already attend various activities in the building.

“It really just follows the successful model that we have in several of the clubs, a basketball gym where boys and girls will be drawn to shoot hoops ... and hang out,” Boys & Girls Clubs President Mark Starnes said.

Boys & Girls Clubs officials met again with boxing coaches Aug. 17 to talk about the future. Starnes said they will meet weekly with the boxing club to help work on alternatives as the moving date approaches.

“It is unfortunate timing. We regret that, but it does have to be that quick,” Starnes said.

Raynor said she hopes bringing attention to the boxing club’s situation will help attract donors.

“They know that we see the value in their program, and we want to see their program stay active so that they’re able to serve their boxing players,” she said.

On Monday, a dozen and a half boxers, ranging from age 8 to more experienced boxers in their late 20s, gathered inside one of the gym’s two boxing rings for a routine practice.

Dozens of trophies, representing club victories over the decades, are lined up against a wall. Posters of past Olympic boxing champs who’ve practiced at the gym, including Sugar Ray Seales and Davey Armstrong, watch over the young boxers as they practice.

Seventy-year-old Tom Mustin has coached boxers at the club since 1968. He’s concerned about the displacement of active boxing club members, primarily kids and teens.

The club has 115 members this year, Mustin said. Of those, 37 are training for competitions; 28 are between the ages of 8 and 18.

“We had five that wanted to join today,” Mustin said Monday. He’s turned down interested boxers since news of the move, saying he doesn’t want them to pay for a gym with a future location that’s uncertain.

“It’s going to be a struggle now just to keep our kids competing,” he said. “How do we work these kids out … and stay ready and try to be able to meet our commitments for these competitions we have coming up?”

Coach Linton said he’s also worried about the financial side of the move.

“My biggest concern is just not having a place to work out,” he said. “We wouldn’t be existing if we had to pay rent.”

The boxing club’s minimal revenue buys boxing gear and provides transportation for the young boxers who travel to competitions. Boxers pay $60 for a 6-month membership, a price the boxing club set to accommodate low-income families in the Hilltop community.

The coaches are volunteers, and Mustin said money has always been tight.

“Right now, we barely make it as far as buying equipment and taking these kids to competitions,” Mustin said.

As he looks toward the moving date, Linton said the boxers are his priority. He’s not sure what the future holds for the club.

“[The coaches] don’t mind the struggle. I’ve never received a check, my job is serving the kids,” he said. “My life is going to be the same no matter what, it’s just displacing these kids.”

Hailey Roberts, a 13-year-old boxer at the gym, said she’s sad to go.

“When I heard that we were going to move, I was pretty sad because I’ve been here since I was 9,” she said Monday. “We’re not going to really find any other gym where we have good memories (like we have) here … this is where we found out that we were really good at boxing.”

Manola Secaira: 253-597-8876