Inside the Rock Hill Boxing Club's Quest for a Better Community

Sep 10, 2019

The Rock Hill Boxing Club is the kind of old school gym real boxers come out of – Golden Glove contenders, burgeoning pros, Olympic hopefuls …. There’s nothing corporate or pretentious about this place. It’s decorated with spray paint and duct tape-wrapped bags; it’s beastly hot; it’s packed with young men looking to make a name in the ring.

But look past the trappings of a small-city boxing gym and you’ll see what the Rock Hill Boxing Club really is for the people who train here – a community. Dare one say a family.

Alonzo Lumpkin, director of the Rock Hill Boxing Club, is on a mission to provide a positive environment for neighborhood kids -- and adults.
Credit Scott Morgan / South Carolina Public Radio

Actually, it’s not that daring to call it a family. Ask any of the dozens of people you might find in here on any given weeknight and they’ll use that word to describe how they feel about this gym. Some, like three-time Golden Glove winner Ryan Wilson go so far as to call it a brotherhood.

And it’s within that dynamic of brothers (and sisters, because there are women who train here too) looking out for each other that the Rock Hill Boxing Club earns its place in the community. The club is based in a city-owned storage building on Crawford Street, right near Clinton College, in a historically African-American neighborhood in one of Rock Hill’s poorer ends of town.

There’s not a lot for neighborhood kids to do when school is out, which is why the gym’s director and head coach, Alonzo Lumpkin, wants to make sure the doors are open for neighborhood kids in need of positive role models and good old-fashioned hard work.

“Especially when school’s in, we have an influx of kids come in,” Lumpkin says. “Having an after-school activity for them to do is crucial.”

The role models include Lumpkin himself, a former Golden Glove winner who was on track for the U.S. Olympic team. They also include Wilson and guys like Brandon Jackson, a former Rock Hill High football star who found boxing four years ago and is making his professional debut in October.

Jackson is 29 and weighs 168 pounds. Which will surprise you if you see him in person.

“I look like I’m 190,” he says.

He does.

Jackson’s football stardom in town has actually helped get more attention on the gym.

“A lot of people don’t know it’s here,” he says of the club. “When I started boxing, being that I have a football background, I kind of shed a little light on what was already here.”

The Rock Hill Boxing Club actually dates back to the 1980s. It was founded by the husband and wife team of Charlie and Marge Hammond. In the early 1990s, Charlie Hammond wanted Lumpkin to join, as an adolescent.

“Back then, boxing was the thing,” Lumpkin says. “My mom didn’t really want me to box.”

The gym was across town from where Lumpkin lived at the time, which meant going home on foot at age 11 or 12.

“My mom didn’t like it,” he says.

Christopher Corazza, 20, came to the Rock Hill Boxing Club an angry teenager. Four years later, he's a testament to the humbling, healing power of boxing.
Credit Scott Morgan / South Carolina Public Radio

But after high school (also in Rock Hill and also fresh from playing football), Lumpkin joined the club and honed his skills in the ring.  He says boxing taught him the values of discipline, hard work, and respect – the very things he’s looking to instill in the kids who come in here off the street.

The effort to keep kids on the right path in life is spread out among the members of this gym. David Darby, who playfully touts his standing as the senior member of the Rock Hill Boxing Club (he’s 45), says his fellow members make sure to be there for the kids.

“We see a kid who’s doing something wrong, everybody works together and get him right,” he says. “We don’t let the kids run wild. They come here, they don’t sit around, they work and they train.”

Given that it’s a boxing gym, this place does draw the occasional buckaroo who swaggers in thinking he can bully everybody around, Darby says.

“They get a wake-up call,” he says.

Usually, Lumpkin says, that wake-up call is nothing more than telling someone “if you can beat this guy, let’s go ahead and get you signed up.” That’s usually enough to sober someone’s ego, but if they accept, the club matches them with someone who’d be a good test. And it usually works out in favor of the boxer, not the challenger.

What these boxers have that those kinds of kids don’t are patience and discipline. They also have respect for what this gym holds dear – hard work and discipline. That’s pretty much the motto, actually.

“I think in our community, one of the things that’s missing is discipline,” Lumpkin says. “If you have discipline, you can conquer mountains.”