Muhammad Ali once said, “Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”
His words about champions not being made in gyms are especially true for the LaVergne Boxing Club. In fact, the emphasis that Mike Rodgers places on his boxers is – in this order – God, grades, and gloves. Mike began the LaVergne Boxing Club, along with LaVergne Police Officer Alex Chang and Coach Kevin Page, two years ago in his Madison Square subdivision garage. The boxing ring was drawn on the floor and kids from the neighborhood came to learn.
As they quickly outgrew their space, friend Brian Davis from Miracle Baptist Church of LaVergne asked, “Is there anything we can do for you?” When he learned a bigger area was needed, Brian, Dennis Robison and Chance Webb prayerfully came up with a name and Mike was told to call Eddie Farrell. When Eddie learned that the LaVergne Boxing Club was not making money from the venture – that they were just making better kids – he offered the real estate for free saying, “God led me to provide this for you.”
Pieces began falling into place when they secured the facility: parents volunteered to paint, they picked up a boxing ring in Mike’s native Little Rock, Arkansas, and other gyms from Knoxville to Memphis donated boxing equipment.
In most boxing organizations, the athletes do not really know where they stand unless they are a championship boxer. Mike felt the martial arts training models were better because of the graduated structure of earning belts. With this in mind, he developed training style unique in boxing: the A-Team, B-Team, and C-Team.
To be a member of the A-Team, boxers must earn all C’s or above in school. If a grade drops below a C, the boxer is dropped to the B-Team until the next progress report shows grade improvement. Beginners are automatically put on the C-team while they learn the basics of how to stand and how to jab, along with general conditioning that includes jump ropes, mountain climbing, and other calisthenics.
Children starting at the age of 8 can join, and the organization is open to individuals up to age 35. Boxers ages 18 and over must undergo a background check and all athletes must be a member of USA Boxing, the national governing body of amateur, Olympic-style boxing. The LaVergne Boxing Club is open both to boys and girls, men and women.
Members of the A-Team compete every weekend. When they arrive at a competition, they wear white shirts, black pants, black ties, and black shoes because Mike feels it is important for the youth to learn life skills, including a well-groomed appearance. When they first began competing as the LaVergne Boxing Club, their neat and tidy entry was sometimes joked about. But then something happened… the club started winning. Then they started winning everything.
“They don’t call us choirboys anymore,” said Mike. “Now they call us the A-Team.”
Coach Alex Chang said the club helps kids focus, “When they come here during the week to practice, they come with a goal and a purpose. Boxing has opened doors for them. We give them the tools, but they have to use them.”
Mike agreed, “We want to see good kids come out of the program. There will be a time in their lives when they put down the gloves but never in their life will they not need an education.”
Mike knows that eventually the athletes will stop boxing, having been an amateur boxer, then a professional boxer for five years. In 2002, he won the World Boxing Federation’s Cruiser Weight Championship, but even then knew that his life would be more than boxing, “You can find success, but if you don’t know what to do with it, you’re still a failure.”
Boxing was just a way to pay bills while Mike pursued a career in music. In 2004, he won critical success with his song “Honkytonk Hitman” and Music Row Magazine compared his true country style to Dwight Yoakam’s. Currently, Mike is concentrating on the annual Indie Outlaw Show held during the CMA Festival, scheduled Saturday, June 12th at Big Shotz, 115 2nd Ave N. in Nashville. Proceeds from the show – which features Mike along with other performers like Buddy Jewell, Ray Scott, Billy Yates, and more – will go to a charity. Tickets are $15 and can be ordered online at honkytonkhitman.com.
Mike earned the nickname “Honkytonk Hitman” when he showed up to a boxing match wearing swim trunks and a cowboy hat, and then defeated his opponent.
Today, all the LaVergne boxers have nicknames that are given by the coaches, based on their fighting style. How “Snowcone” earned his name is unclear, but Sloane Strader is already on the A-Team after just eight months. The 11th grade student at LHS said it hurt a little when he started boxing, but only because he didn’t know what to do. He learned to put his hands up, move his head, and now when someone actually gets a solid shot, he just shakes it off.
With this kind of grit and determination, the club has produced something the community never had before: a finalist for the National Silver Gloves competition. Sean Sullivan is now rated Number Two in the country. In addition, Paris McCullough is the first person from LaVergne to make it to the National Golden Gloves championship where he proudly made it past the first round.
That their son went from being a non-athletic couch potato to competing at a high level on the national stage is thrilling for Sean’s parents, Stan and Sherry Sullivan, but they also appreciate that the program helped teach self-discipline.
Noel Jiminez’s son is no longer a struggling student, “When my son started, his grades weren’t good, but with the discipline they teach the kids and the emphasis on grades, he’s improved a lot in school.” If his son keeps it up, he may join the A-Team Roster.
The A-Team of the LaVergne Boxing Club include: Sean Sullivan, Rotel Clemmons, Alexander Chang, Sloane Strader, Joseph Kibodeaux, Eduardo Aguilar, Dylan Albanese, Paris McCullough, Byran Morales, Michael Rodgers, Jr.., Rogelio Pacheco, and Journey Button-Hale.
With determination and practice, the other 36 members of the B-Team and C-Team may follow in their footsteps and move up to the A-Team.
The doors of the LaVergne Boxing Club are open every Monday through Friday from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m., though summer hours begin soon. The gym is located at 5499 Murfreesboro Road, in Suite I. If you’re coming into LaVergne from Smyrna, you pass Fergus Road and there’s a yellow group of buildings on the right (Rim Shot is located there… look for the tire rim display). The gym is in the back – the last building on the left, last office on the left.