Neighbors work to rebuild Lawncrest youth athletics

In part two of a two-part series, NEast Philly examines what goes into making an athletic association successful, and what two neighborhoods are doing to keep kids active. Read part one

With one of the more unique community athletics offerings in the Northeast, Heavy Hitta’s Boxing in Lawncrest has rapidly grown since the days in which its members sparred on the open field behind Lawncrest Recreation Center.

The swift advance speaks to not only the dedication of the club’s coaches and members, but to the neighborhood’s desire for a strong community sports representation. The club’s boxers are training vigorously for Fists Full of Dynamite, an Independence Day weekend boxing tournament to be held within Rec Center.

Founded by club president Rick Terrell in late 2009, Heavy Hitta’s Boxing moved from the field to the clubhouse just this past May. Terrell admits that the club nearly happened accidentally.

“All I did was watch boxing tapes, go to shows, analyze and dissect [as a teenager], so it was just something that was in me,” Terrell said. “I was in my backyard training my son, and somebody walked up the street and said, ‘Oh, you’re a boxing trainer? Can you train me?’ That’s what sparked it.”

It wasn’t until a year later that the same boxer returned with friends, all asking to be trained, Terrell recalled. He agreed, hoping that these young boxers had the same love for the sport that he still does. Terrell started with the basics, and instilled the notion that boxing is more than simply fighting.

“Street fighting and boxing are two different things,” he said. “Street fighting lasts for 30 seconds at the most, but a boxing match lasts for 12 rounds. It’s more about endurance.”

It wasn’t until Terrell was training 15 fighters simultaneously that Lonnie Haile, home from duty in the U.S. military and now employed as a Philadelphia parole agent, stumbled upon one of Terrell’s training sessions. From there, the duo worked together tirelessly to create Heavy Hitta’s Boxing, which now is a staple in Lawncrest Athletics.

As part of the Lawncrest Lions Athletic Association’s recent revival — helmed by club president Mitchell Robinson — the folks who run Heavy Hitta’s Boxing have learned a thing or two about what it takes to get a community sports organization off the ground.

“You got to have a plan,” Terrell advised. “We formulated a plan and stuck by the plan. Just like in boxing. It may not be as easy, but if you stick to the game plan in the long run, then you’re going to win.”

Walter Sabbath, a recent addition to the club’s roster of coaches and retired amateur fighter, said simply spreading the word has and will work to help it grow.

“We find that these young people go out and tell others, and some come to just watch the sports out on the field,” Sabbath said. “I go to various churches, I talk to people and invariably we’ve run into some people that are interested. There’s a lot of young potential out here; it just needs to be guided.”

This young potential, after some time with Heavy Hitta’s Boxing, has some ideas on how to continue the club’s rapid development, as well. Daniel Chery, one of the club’s assistant coaches, thinks one word will contribute most to the organization’s success.

“Persistence. There are those days when you don’t feel like coming, but you got to just keep it going,” Chery said. “You have to keep doing whatever you can to help, to keep the coaches and trainers encouraged.”

Considering that Lawncrest athletics suffered a dry spell for some time, the reason for looking to community sports seems unanimous. Haile, experienced in the ways of discipline, can only think of one reason for bringing sports back to the neighborhood in a big way.

One of the club's female members displays classic technique. Photo by Laura D'Alfonso.
(One of the club's female members displays classic technique. Photo by Laura D'Alfonso.)

“Community sports are important so that the children don’t get into trouble,” Haile said. “Children get out of school and they have a place to enjoy themselves here, whether it’s through basketball, football, baseball or boxing. This city’s going through a lot of budget cuts, but you can’t take away from the children.”

Terrell sees community sports as an absolute necessity in today’s neighborhoods.

“We need to make an outlet for these kids to enjoy themselves, to vent or sometimes just for mentorship,” he said. “We just have to; there is no excuse why we can’t. This generation needs positive men and women in the community that get up every day and put their best foot forward.”

Looking toward the future and even past the organization’s upcoming Independence Day weekend event, Haile has even more events in his sights to get the Heavy Hitta’s name out in the open.

“Hopefully through training, as our fighters get better, we’ll be able to have our fighters participate in other city-wide tournaments,” Haile said. “We have one other show that we hope to get our fighters ready for in October, which is the Lucien Blackwell Tournament.”

While Sabbath hopes to see the club become a nationally recognized boxing gym someday, the coaches and boxers at Heavy Hitta’s Boxing are satisfied with a place where they can not only teach and learn the ways of the pugilist, but the ways of the disciplined.

Joe Osborne and Laura D’Alfonso are students in Temple University’s Philadelphia Neighborhoods class. They spent the semester with NEast Philly exploring our region and covering news.

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