Davon Williams, 12, is a regular at the House of Pain Boxing Gym at Third and Yarnall streets in Chester, Pa. Under the supervision of volunteer trainers, he’s learned how to jump rope and throw a jab, cross, hook and uppercut. Williams hopes one day to be a “teacher, a wrestler, a boxer or a doctor,” and says he’s also learned how not to get involved in the fighting he sees on the street where he lives.
“I see people fighting a lot, but I try to get away from it,” Williams said. “Some people try to put you in situations that have nothing to do with you.”
Chester Mayor John Linder has become a big supporter of the gym. He said that anything that gives children something constructive to do with their time will curb the gun violence that plagues cities like Chester.
“The boxing program and other programs that center around moving young men and women off the streets and into a facility around people who can help them develop their disciplinary, thinking and competitive skills so that they can channel those and become the leaders that we need in the city,” Linder said.
One of the organizations working to secure money for the gym in addition to the city of Chester is the Big Cat Last Round Foundation. Big Cat President James Gibbs and Mayor Linder, both Chester natives, go way back. “He became a boxing promoter, and I became mayor,” Linder explained.
It was at the funeral of a young person gunned down that Gibbs and Linder decided it was time to make a joint effort to get young people off the street. “Our slogan is, put the guns down and pick the gloves up,” said Gibbs.
Gibbs remembered back to his youth when supervised boxing matches were how young people in the community settled differences, and then, usually, became friends. “Our badge of honor was how well we conducted ourselves with our hands,” Gibbs said.
Patrick Pernsley, a former professional fighter, volunteers to train boxers ages 8 to 18, three nights a week at the House of Pain. He credits boxing for keeping him humble, focused and out of trouble, and said he’s happy to pass that along to the young people.
Pernsley’s proud that many kids, despite arriving from different neighborhoods in Chester, are focused on boxing. “We have a little violence in the city, but it ain’t in here,” Pernsley said. “They all get along.”