Sapakoff: Charleston boxing gym seeks new funding to continue 'success stories'
"Every one of these pictures tells a story," the old man said as he worked his way between the speed bag and the slow bag and over to the ropes of the boxing ring itself.
Al "Hollywood" Meggett is 83 now, but he's sharp as ever with recollection or instruction. The four walls of the Charleston Boxing Club are covered with photos taken during the 31 years since Meggett started teaching the sport and life lessons to children inside the second floor of an old firehouse on upper King Street.
"The Charleston Boxing Club is known all over the country," Meggett said. "Well, not just the country. The world."
There's a snapshot of Hollywood with Joe Frazier, and one of Hollywood with another late former heavyweight champ, Floyd Patterson. Check it out: Hollywood, beaming, standing next to former U.S. senators Strom Thurmond and Fritz Hollings.
"Those pictures, they were taken right here in this gym," said Meggett, who learned to box while growing up in Harlem.
There is an autographed poster of boxing icon Muhammad Ali. But mostly the display is about kids, memories of Lowcountry boys - and a few girls - who have come through the Charleston Boxing Club to find self-esteem, trophies or both. There are collages full of boxers who have gone on to national Golden Gloves tournaments or the Pan Am Games
Meggett is worried that he won't be able to add new pictures to the walls. His training program, formerly sponsored by the Charleston Police Department, is now on its own and leaking red ink. Meggett is seeking funding from individuals and, ideally, corporate sponsors.
"I'm carrying this program on my back," said Meggett, who has applied for non-profit status. "So I'm looking for donors and sponsors. We'll take checks, money orders or whatever. I'm in diehard need."
Fathers and sons
It's a noble cause. Boxing has a way of letting an uncertain child learn a lot about himself or herself, and very quickly. Competitive punching of fellow humans isn't for everybody. But the discipline that comes with preparation has worked wonders even for those who prefer to limit their Charleston Boxing Club experience to sparring and shadow boxing.
"Golly, this gym is full of success stories," Meggett said. "I've got kids who left here and became firemen. I've got one kid who is a doctor now. I've got fathers who learned to box here that bring their sons."
Current enrollment: 25 kids from as far away as Summerville, ranging in age from 10 to 18. Some young adults stop by to work out.
Training and equipment costs - including padded headgear - are kept down thanks to Meggett's deal with the city of Charleston allowing free use of the building. But youth boxing, like most sports, includes out-of-town tournaments. Hotel stays, fuel and meals test Meggett's goal of offering a free program.
Most of the trips are of the weekend variety. Meggett recently took two boxers to a Silver Gloves event in North Augusta. Some of the better young boxers advance.
"We've taken kids to Sweden, Germany, Russia, Denmark, Puerto Rico," Meggett said. "How many kids do you know that have passports? Some of my kids have passports, because they travel. But that costs money."
Meggett, a Navy veteran who has worked on the waterfront and for the post office, has four grown children. He relies heavily on teaching assistant Darren Whitaker, 52. Whitaker started boxing at the gym when it opened in 1983.
"I've been here since the beginning," Whitaker said, "and I've seen what kind of impact this can have on kids."
"Why is boxing good for kids?" Meggett said. "Why does it help them deal with the things they have to deal with in life? I'll make it simple for you: I've been here 30 years. Does that tell you something?"
Along with athletic particulars, Meggett insists that his boxers learn about proper nutrition. He insists that homework come before workouts. Meggett's "No. 1 rule" - and it's on the wall along with the pictures - is "Value Excellence."
Who knows how long it will last?
A few years longer, Hollywood Meggett hopes.
"I'm still open," he said, "and I still get kids coming in. Some of them can't come every day. Some come only a few days a week. That's fine."
Meggett pauses, and looks around the gym at all the pictures.
"I'd just like to see it continue," he said.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff