MISSOULA — A new gym recently opened in Missoula that allows students an after-school opportunity to learn the sport of boxing.
The catch? They have to do their homework before training begins.
The Missoula Boxing Club began operation on Nov. 2 as a non-profit gym. While opening in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic has had its challenges, the gym is starting to get its legs under it and grow.
"It’s been pretty exciting," executive director J.D. Partain said. "We have new kids coming every week, sometimes every day. We want kids to test it, to try it out, so they have one day where they get to participate and do a number of different drills, and they can decide if this is something they want to do."
Partain came up with the idea of the Missoula Boxing Club after inspiration from another occupation. Four years ago when working for Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, a non-profit advocacy group working with foster-adoptive children at risk of abuse or neglect in Missoula, Partain was working with a student and an idea struck him.
"I had a particular case with a teenager, and during that case I wanted to help him get his education back on track," Partain explained. "So we met with the high school, the principal, the vice principal and other people who could help him. In that time, I found that if he didn't want the resources that we were giving him, then what good would it be?
"And so the question was in my head, 'What do kids want, and could we leverage that for what they need?' I came up on this idea of having a boxing club and then leveraging the appeal of boxing for the sake of education, that’s when we began to put the organization together."
So, the Missoula Boxing Club was born.
The club welcomes students from ages 9 to 19. The goal is to use schoolwork as an incentive to train.
Students bring homework or coursework to the gym and can work with tutors or volunteers to make sure their studies are completed. Once those are completed and they get a "thumbs up" from a tutor, they move one room over and can begin their boxing training for the day with head coach and former amateur boxing champion Duran Caferro.
"I’ve been impressed with their passion, I’ve been impressed with their work ethic. I think the kids of this community have been craving something like this and it shows in the way that they’ve worked hard," said Caferro, a Helena native who won his USA Boxing National Championship in 2009 and has competed at nationals more than a dozen times. Caferro's father, Duran Caferro Sr., runs the H-Town Eagles Boxing Club in Helena.
"Boxing speaks to kids of an alternate background. Kids who are not going to sign up for soccer or sign up for taekwondo, they find themselves in a boxing gym, so it speaks to a different brand of child and young person," Caferro continued. "To me, I grew up boxing and I don't know what I would do without boxing and so it's really exciting to bring this opportunity to those children."
The gym operates under the umbrella of USA Boxing guidelines and rules. Due to the pandemic, masks must be worn at all times during training and each session can have a maximum of 10 students on top of the cleaning that needs to be done each day. The initial tutoring sessions have also been challenged by the pandemic and limiting people in the building.
Partain said the gym has around 20 students who have consistently come to the gym for training in the opening months, with a goal for both the boxing gym and tutoring facilities to be fully operational by fall of 2021. Adult classes have also recently begun to take place.
"These are just challenges that we look to overcome but we didn't want that to stop the program or to keep it from beginning," Partain said. "Most of all, we just want community support. We would love our community to just kind of champion this particular project and see the value that it brings."
"As far as coaching is concerned, I have not had to spend much time motivating these kids to work, they’re the ones driving me to the gym," Caferro added.
At the end of the day, while limited, the club's goal remains simple as it continues to grow heading into the New Year.
"The goal of the Missoula Boxing Club is to enhance citizenship of our young people through education, through leveraging boxing," Caferro said. "I’m confident after we’ve worked with these kids on those pieces, championship belts, those will be a byproduct of the program that we have so I’m confident that these kids are going to be champions."