Boxing club trains kids for the fight of their lives
By George Morris
Hands of stone
Talking with a visitor as members of his Hands of Stone Boxing Club shadow-boxed at BREC’s Pride Park, Kevin Allen’s attention didn’t stray.
“Ring awareness,” he shouted as two boxers narrowly avoided colliding as they bounced on their feet and flailed at the air with their fists. “You have to know somebody is next to you.”
Awareness. As much as anything else Allen tries to convey to his boxers, he wants them to be aware. Not just of body positions. Not just of the punching angles and opponents’ weaknesses. He wants them to be aware of how to live.
Since forming the club in 2005, Allen has coached 17 national champion boxers. His son and current Hands of Stone boxer, Henry, 16, is one of them, and another son, Jeremy, was a two-time national runner-up.
But family is an elastic concept at Hands of Stone.
“Most of these children — white, black, Hispanic, all — they don’t call me coach. The majority of them call me dad,” Allen said. “They call me dad because I’m the only dad most of them know.”
Allen, 45, was born in New Orleans and spent his first year in Baton Rouge before his family moved north. They spent several years in Chicago and Milwaukee, and Allen took up boxing, getting formal training at Al Moreland’s gym in Milwaukee.
“I used to stay in a fight all the time because I talked different,” Allen said. “I wore boot-cut jeans. I wore cowboy boots to school because I was from the country, and when you move up to Chicago or Milwaukee or somewhere and you being from the country talking a little slow, heck, they want to start a fight. I never have been scared to rumble.
“He (Moreland) was a rough old man, but I thank God for him because you have to be rough to deal with some of us little boys.”
Allen said he stayed out of trouble because his father, Hank, was a strict disciplinarian. The family returned to Baton Rouge in 1976, and Allen boxed at the Baton Rouge Sports Academy, winning four U.S. Men’s Nationals from 1985-88. Allen said he never tried boxing professionally because “children started coming, and I started working.”
Allen is a logging contractor in Clinton. But boxing stayed in his blood, and he believed it would help many of the rootless youngsters he saw.
His wife, Trina Brown-Allen, is a counselor at East Feliciana Middle School, and the school recommends the club to children with discipline problems. Boxers come from Clinton, Zachary, Baker and Baton Rouge.
“Little boys are really just trying to find themselves. Little boys just need direction,” Allen said. “Really, there’s no bad kid. He just needs direction and to be put in the right environment at the right time.”
Not all of the Hands of Stone boxers have troubled backgrounds. Roy Price’s son, T-Michael, stumbled on to the club when it trained next door to the church they attended in Clinton. And not all of them are boys. Verlena Banks began helping Allen when her son, Kenny, boxed for the club. Now daughter, Valencia, 15, does.
“I told her when she got old enough to decide what she wanted to do, I would back her up,” Banks said. “One day when she got off the bus, she said, ‘Mom, now I know what I want to do.’ I said, ‘What?’ She said, ‘Box.’ When she said ‘box’ my mouth fell open, but I had to honor my word. That’s what she fell in love with.”
What Allen has fallen in love with is seeing troubled youths change. Many boxers who come to him make all F’s in school. Once on the team, traveling to compete is an incentive.
“He wants to go with the team,” Allen said. “The boxing team are like brothers. So, they’ll start to pull their grades up. But I can’t turn nobody away with bad grades, or I’d turn everybody away. Everybody has closed the door on them. Everybody has forgot about them.”
Allen has temporarily taken some boxers into his home, taken them fishing, taken them to his work sites to sit aboard his heavy equipment. Wherever he takes them, Allen looks for opportunities to give life lessons — minding their own business, not starting fights, not crossing behavioral boundaries.
“It’s very, very important for them to get the wisdom and the knowledge and understanding, for a man to tell them certain things,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong: I’m not taking nothing away from women, but they can’t raise a boy like I can. I had 10 brothers. I know what little boys do, because if I didn’t try one of my brothers did. I understand little boys real well.”
Allen funds the club mostly out of his own pocket. The Red Stick Kiwanis Club bought the boxing ring the club uses.
“To see the discipline Kevin has instilled in these young men and to see the skills that he’s taught them is really an impressive type thing,” said Jon Goeckel, a Red Stick member. “To see Kevin run this club … I’ve been to some boxing tournaments, and his boxers all sit there disciplined. They’re not running around. They’re really a group of nice young men. … You just see these kids change. It’s a remarkable thing.”
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