By Chris Teale and Susan Hale Thomas (Photo/Susan Hale Thomas)
From the gym of the Charles Houston Recreation Center, Alexandria Boxing Club coach Kay Koroma has spent years turning around the lives of young men and women. He not only trains them in the art, discipline and hard work of boxing, but helps ensure they stay out of trouble and are productive citizens in society.
Now, just a week after seeing two of his young professional fighters both win in New York as part of the ShowTime’s series “ShoBox: The Next Generation,” Koroma himself was honored for his years of service as he was named the Developmental Coach of the Year by the U.S. Olympic Committee and was given a key to the City of Alexandria by Mayor Bill Euille.
At a ceremony last weekend, Euille described the club and its members as “shining stars,” and added that they had “put Alexandria on the map.”
“Coach Kay has been your shining star in terms of being your teacher, mentor, someone that you go to, more than just a coach, to cry on his shoulder and so forth,” Euille said. “That’s what people are supposed to do, and each and every one of us in our own way is a coach. You can be a mentor or role model to anyone, and that’s what life is really about.”
Euille went on to note that in his 21 years as an elected official, he has awarded someone with a key to the city fewer than 10 times. Usually, keys are reserved for dignitaries or retiring city employees who have been in government work for 45 years or more.
Just a week earlier, two of Koroma’s protégés looked hugely impressive in Westbury, N.Y. as they both forge ahead with their professional careers. Middleweight Antoine Douglas improved his pro record to 17-0-1 with a sixth-round stoppage of Thomas LaManna, while super middleweight Jerry Odom (12-1) overcame Andrew Hernandez with a stoppage in the first round.
Meanwhile, John Thompson can look ahead to the semifinals of ESPN’s 2015 Boxcino tournament in the super welterweight division, and the likes of Dara Shen and Shakur Stevenson will compete in qualifying tournaments and trials for the Olympic Games in the coming months.
It is yet another example of the good work the organization does, as they help young people become productive members of society through training in the gym, with a number going on to have an impact at both the amateur and professional levels of the sport.
“At the end of the day, they put a program in play for kids to get off the street and stay out of trouble and to be good individuals in society and productive individuals in society,” club coach Joseph Koroma said in the locker-room after Douglas’ fight. “If you’re going to do that and turn back around when everything is good and we have kids that have been through the program five, 10, 15 years now, and now they’re professional athletes, that’s what this is about.
“The [Charles Houston Recreation] center is there to keep kids off the street, to give them something productive to do. They are kids that are being productive citizens in society and making a name for themselves and doing something with themselves that can further them along and show other kids that, ‘I came from this, you can do the same thing.’ All our kids, that’s what we preach to them. Look at Antoine, look at Jerry.”
The awards and honors for the club come with its future still in limbo, after their lease at the recreation center expired in 2014. In the past, there have been rumors of the club being shut down after two decades or seeing its hours of operation cut back significantly. But Joseph Koroma believes the strides their athletes make is the best indicator of the good they do in the local community.
“Antoine was around eight years old — he was young when he came,” he said. “When you’re in the gym you’ll see pictures of him as a kid and the way he is now. For him to come from there to where he is right now, that’s beautiful. That’s what this is all about.
“For anyone who thinks the program is not valid, they need to come and check it out and see it with their own eyes. When you have a mayor and you have people giving awards and coming to the gym and coming to see us and talk to us, why would you want to stop something like that? I understand it’s a business, and I understand that revenue needs to be brought in, but I think they can find other ways to bring in revenue into that place.”
As for Kay Koroma, he continues to be excited about the future of the club and the numerous young fighters he continually brings through.
“Watch out,” he said at the ceremony to honor him, “there’s another chapter coming.”