SPORTS: From James Island to Liberia: Boxing group making life better for kids in African nation

By Derrek Asberry |

The boxing rings in struggling areas of Liberia are often limited to rough terrain located between deep puddles of water from heavy rains.

It’s a symbol of the daily struggles the kids face, though you wouldn’t know it by their smiles and desire to learn. That’s why trainers at Hurricane Boxing on James Island are itching to go back.

“The kids there are so special. You just want to give them everything,” Alyssa Pierce, one of the trainers at Hurricane Boxing, said following a recent visit to Liberia.

Hurricane Boxing and its partners are working to turn some of that land into a gym and fitness center, all part of a youth boxing program in Gbarnga City.

The facility would also host events and serve as an economic driver for the African nation that ranks among the poorest in the world. Construction is scheduled to start in October with completion slated for March 2019.

The end result isn’t to turn the kids into professional athletes, said Jason Scalzo, a trainer at Hurricane Boxing and the executive director of Boxing is Love, an organization tasked with creating opportunities for underprivileged kids.

Boxing, he said, is the backdrop to the overall mission, which is creating opportunities for the youth of Liberia.

Mark Wetzel, who works with trainers at Hurricane Boxing on James Island, trains a child in Liberia during a recent trip to the nation. The goal for Hurricane is to help build facilities in Liberia to create more opportunities for the kids. Provided.

Scalzo and Pierce were joined on the trip by Hurricane Boxing owner Michael Golemis and trainers Joshua Mendenhall, Loring Ward and Brittany Hill.

Mark Wetzel, a local resident who trained for years with Golemis, also made the trip. He’s connecting the group with companies who can supply materials for construction.

The culture shock was jarring. The volunteers packed into a van with no air conditioning to travel from one village after another. They slept in orphanages and ate when they spotted a food vendor on the road.

The group was able to work with more than 1,000 kids, making the experience well worth it, especially once the training and mentoring began.

“The kids I work with (in Charleston) would be moaning and groaning if we had to walk that far (just to reach the boxing ring),” Ward joked. “But these kids never complain. I think that’s one of the most memorable things about the trip. They’re truly grateful for everything they have.”

Scalzo said part of the mission was to make the kids aware that some of the greatest boxers in the world are from their homeland. Freddy Kiwitt and now-retired Lee Manuel Ossie are from Liberia, yet many people in the nation have no idea.

“Having these boxers give Liberia a face is a huge step toward showing these kids a positive outlet,” Scalzo said.

Other groups are working with Hurricane Boxing, including Save More Kids, an international group dedicated to raising money and awareness for the issues Liberia is facing. And BOXRAW, an apparel brand, found out about the effort and has joined forces to provide resources.

“The whole concept is just fantastic,” Golemis said. “The kids are remarkable and deserve our support.”

The trip is still fresh in their minds, and the trainers are hoping to return in the near future.

The feeling in Liberia is mutual, evidenced by the songs the kids sang as they greeted the trainers.

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