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The Motor City Bombers Off The Streets And Olympic Bound

The Motor City Bombers Off The Streets And Olympic Bound image The Motor City Bombers Off The Streets And Olympic Bound image The Motor City Bombers Off The Streets And Olympic Bound image
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Down a flight of stairs at the Kronk Recreation Center boxing gym, the evening's action is already heating up. Mickey Goodwin, 18, a 156-pound white kid from Melvindale, is battling Riek Jester, a 178-pound black kid who is at least four ínches taller It looks almost like David meeting Goliath, until you notice Goodwin standing right in there, scoring with his left jab, connecting with his right uppercut, and bouncing the 19year-old Jester off the ropes with a powerful left hook. As if this wasn't enough, our escort assures us that Goodwin is no patsy, for n his eleven months of amateur boxing, he has won 23 of 24 f ights, with 21 of them coming by knockout. 'That's why we cali him 'Sneaky Pea,' " says Kronk boxing eontinued on page 7 ' Off the Streets and Olympic Bound By Joel GreerPhotos by Joel Unangst continued f rom the cover coach Emanuel Steward. "He has that innocent look, like Sweet Pea (of Popeye fame), and he's so sneaky that he knocked out an experienced fighter the first time we put him in this ring." Goodwin, who would like nothing better than to represent the United States in the Olympics at Montreal this July, wasn't about to knock out Jester in this workout. Jester, in f act, is also pointing toward the Olympics, and he's currently rated number three in his weight class by the United States Amateur Boxers and Coaches Association. Next into the ring were Bernard Mays and Thomas Hearns, two speedsters who f ight at 139 and 132 pounds, respectively. "Keep those gloves up," shouted Steward across the ring as Hearn exploded a right lead off Mays' cheekbone. Hearns appeared to have Mays in trouble, but the combination of a lot of pride and Steward's encouragement brought enough life back into Bernard so he could get in a few licks of his own. One by one, workouts like this take place at Kronk, Detroit's most publicized and talent-packed amateur boxing center. Emanuel Steward, who's earned Kronk an international reputation since taking over in 1971 , trains some 36 to 40 fighters, f ive nights per week. "It takes a physically and mentally strong fighter to train here," explains Steward, who grew up in the local Parks and Recreation boxing program and became the Detroit Golden Gloves Champ in 1961 and '62 before winning the National Golden Gloves title the following year. Having turned to coaching, Steward, at the ripe oíd age of 31, is now ready to reap the benefits of his 23-year boxing career. U's not unusual, of an evening at Kronk, to see a pair of Olympic contenders like Goodwin and Jester battling t out; both Hearns and Mays, in fact, are also looking forward to the Summer Games. Unfortunately, Mays is only 15, and while he may earn the berth in the Olympics, he will be too young to compete, according to international rules. And you can add to the list of Olympic contenders John O'Neill, 17, a skinny little kid from Westland who makes the trip to Junction and McGraw every night in hopes of making the Olympics at 106 pounds. With a nucleus of fighters like this available, and with team boxing flourishing in other cities. Mayor Coleman Young created the Motor City Bombers boxing team last Augustnot only to bring a winner to Detroit, but to re-establish the Motor City as the nation's amateur boxing capital. It was no surprise that the Bombers were organized under the auspices of Detroit's Community Youth Services Program (CYSP), since Director Dick Humphrey and Deputy Director Jim Ingram are both former boxers. Funds from the Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA), got the program off the ground. j Thanks to Steward's program at Kronk, Dave Shoulders' club at Johnson Center, and Ted Wright's group at Parkside ter, the Bombers have gone undefeated in their first eleven matches. ÈÊË "We're not at all like the Tigers, Red Wings, Pistons and Lions," says Ingram, best known as the creator of WJLB's "Drumbeat Commentary." With a slight chuckle, he adds. "We win!" Since the team has built that winning reputation, and the individual fighters have created their own followings, fan support has mushroomed dramatically. The Bombers have apparently found a home at the Northwest Act vit es Center (the former Jewish Community Center at Meyers and Curtis), where near-capacity crowds of nearly 1 ,000 fans have gathered. Fight fans from throughout the área come to follow the careers of Westland's O'Neill, Melvindale's Goodwin, and Detroit's Hearns, Jester and Mays. Coach Steward remembers when Detroit was an amateur boxing hotbed in the 1960's. "Even though Detroit hasn't produced a professional national champion since Joe 'The Brown Bomber' Louis [1935] , we've had several amateur champs," he says. "We had guys like Hedgemon Lewis, Ron Harris, Larry Charleston, Al Jones, Len Hutchins, Willie Richardson, and Quincy Daniels." But when Steward carne to Kronk, amateur boxing was on a steep decline. The reason, he explains, was two-fold. "We noticed that some of our f ighters probably had the same ability of the champions, but we were sending a kid nto the ring who fought, say, 15 times, against someone who had 75 fights. We also discovered that the champions started at a much younger age than our fighters." To get the Kronk program moving, Steward and his partner Chuck Davis formed the Escot Boxing Club, which sponsored fight cards with similar clubs in other cities. Kronk also opened the doors to anyone interested, and recruited anyone who had even the slightest interest in the fight game. Bernard Mays, who has earned the reputation as "the toughest 15-year-old in town," is one of those youngsters. A veteran of five years n the ring, Mays has won 73 of 75 decisions, and is expected to win a gold medal in the 1980 Olympics, by which time he will have reached his 19th birthday. "I wish I was a year older," says Mays, trying to sponge the hurt out of the bruise under his left eye. "It's a long time before the next Olympics, so I just might turn pro first." Steward, who sometimes takes on the role of counselor, figures that in Mays' case, "We'll have to play it by ear. There s so much politics involved in the Olympics that Bernard just might not want to wait." So Mays has one of those touch decisions awaiting him a few years from now, but he's not really concerned. He's just glad to be fighting, because he knows where he'd be if he wasn't: "l'd probably be down in Juvenile somewhere," says Mays, still perspiring. "Before I carne down here, the temptation was always there to either steal or get nto street fights. Kronk has changed my whole life around." Probably the most experienced Kronk fighter s the 17-year-old Hearns, who's won 79 of 84 fights and is currently ranked third in the nation at 132 pounds. As the Olympics draw nearer, Steward s teaching Hearns to become more than a two-punch fighter. "He's probably our best shot at a medal," says Steward, who calis Hearns one of the quickest boxers in the country. Goodwin, too, admits that boxing has changed his life. "I can't eat," says the former football player, who has lost nearly 30 pounds to fight at 156. Known as a knockout artist, "Sneaky Pea" s trying to learn the f ner points of the game, so he doesn't have to depend on his self-proclaimed "barroom" style. Like many i other Kronk f ghters, he says that the nightly workI outs are tougher than the actual f ights. Jester, who comes from Detroit's Northeast side, I s a light heavyweight Olympic contender. "I started fighting just to get off the streets," says the veteran of 23 fights- and 21 victories. "I used to hang around with the wrong people." btaying ott the streets is a niaaen extra in tne Kronk program. "When these kids leave, they're so tired all they can do s go home, do homework, and fall asleep," says Steward with aent priae. John O'Neill, ranked fifth in the country at 106 pounds, is the other Olympic hopeful; he has won 37 of 45 f ghts. Foremost on the schedule of the Olym pic contenders are the National Golden Gloves Championships (March 22-27 at Miami Beach), the National Amateur k Athletic Union Championships (Las Vegas, May 4-8), the Eastern RegionH al Olympic Trials (tentatively set for W Detroit, May 17-22) and the U.S. "If I wasn't down here fighting, Vd probably be down in Juvenile where. This place has changed my life around.' - Bernard Mays, i "the toughest , year-old in town' Motor City Bombers continuea jrom page Olympic Boxing Trials (Cincinnati, June 9-12). The winners of the four regionals, plus four-at-large boxers, wili make up the field in Cincinnati, where the Olympic team members are selected at each weight. An altérnate will also be chosen in each weight class for the Games, which begin in Montreal July 17. The Motor City Bombers' next home program is scheduled for the Northwest Activities Center February 21. The Bombers will be meeting a team from Akron, Ohio, and the first match begins at 8 p.m. With the help of the Bombers, Steward's five-year goal of seeing Kronk establish a national reputation has been realized, so he has now formulated a new one. "I would like to manage a professional world champion," says Steward, who will coach Hearns, Goodwin and Jester next year when the trio turns pro. "My oíd friend, Sam LaFata, is already setting up the corporation," adds Steward. "We'll train those fighters during the day, so we can keep the Kronk program alive at night." After all, 1 1-year old Steve McCrory has already won 14 of 19 fights, and he's looking more like Muhammad Ali every day. Joel Greer, who lves in Detroit, has written about sports for the Michigan Daily and the Ann Arbor News.