SIKESTON - The growing popularity of boxing in Mississippi County, has led to the need for a bigger venue for its participants.
What began in 2004 as a place for youths to go besides the streets, has grown into the Bootheel Bombers Boxing featured at MaxOut Fitness in Sikeston.
Trainer Brad Wick has seen his dream of training would-be fighters grow and grow. Now, instead of small space over in East Prairie, Wick has taken his fighters to the next level.
"We moved to expand and to get to a central location," said Wick. "We not only serve Mississippi County, but also try and serve New Madrid and Scott County. I am trying to get a big drive for Sikeston, get some of the kids around here interested in boxing."
Leaving East Prairie was not an easy decision for Wick.
"We have made some history over in Mississippi County," said Wick. "The past two years we have produced champions. We have got some great kids fighting here. Some are ranked in the state and in my mind, are some of the best kids in certain weight classes in the entire state. We are a small gym that has gone up against some of the bigger gyms in St. Louis that have been around for over 50 years. We compete very well against the best fighters in the state."
Starting this past March in Sikeston, Bootheel Bombers Boxing has taken up residency at MaxOut Fitness which is owned and operated by Don Davis. Located off East Malone, the Bombers are open to all ages and gender.
"We will take kids from the age of nine on up, boys and girls, I will train any age, if a 60 year old walks in and wants to be trained in boxing, I am going to train him or her," said Wick. "I do not personally charge for the instruction, I do this to help keep the kids off the street. I am not here to make a buck or anything like that. The sport of boxing is something I have always been interested in growing up. Boxing has always been a part of my life.
"I boxed back in the '80s and here just recently I wanted to start my own gym. I started a program in East Prairie just to keep the kids off the street. Lot of the kids that get in trouble around these counties are for fighting. I try and tell the kids that instead of getting in trouble out on the streets, they can come in and put on some gloves to see if your skills are that good. I don't just take kids that are in trouble, I will take any kid. If you want to train and learn how to box, I will be here."
For Wick, the "sweet science" is a true test of a person's character and desire to achieve.
"Boxing brings both mental and physical fitness," said Wick. "I have kids here who when they first started didn't believe they could accomplish much at all. They came into the gym and worked their butts off and when they get done, they have improved tremendously on their physical fitness and have better mental clarity. They are able to think on a dime and react to certain situations that they were unable to do when they first started the program. Every kid is different, I have trained kids who are smart as a whip, but just wanted to improve their physical fitness."
A fighter with Wick since the inception of the program, Matt "The Man" Gephart, age 16 of East Prairie, has had 30 fights with the Bootheel Bombers. In and out of trouble since a youngster, the Bombers have provided an outlet for Gephart.
"In this program, you don't have time for trouble," said Gephart. "You are training constantly and if you slack off, you are going to get hurt. I always want to be ready because when you box at the matches, you have a big crowd and you want to perform to the best of your abilities and not embarrass yourself.
"Brad keeps me motivated and I don't want to let him down. He got me when I was in the juvenile system. I was on probation, doing community service. I was Brad's first student and he pulled me aside and we talked about my troubles and how boxing could make my life better. I haven't been in trouble since then. After I turn 17, I would like to do this professionally. It is the only thing I want to do. I don't have an education, I don't go to school. I mean, Brad has me going to G.E.D. classes and all, but boxing is all that I want to do. I am training four or five hours a day to prepare myself for what awaits."
According to Wick, Gephart is a prime example as what boxing can do for a troubled individual.
"Matt Gephart weighed 245 pounds when I got him," said Wick. "Now, he weighs 178 pounds and is one of top fighters in the state. When he came to the gym, Matt was a juvenile delinquent. He was in trouble all the time, always fighting on the streets and constantly in trouble. Now, Matt is not in a lick of trouble. This program will give kids something to do."
Wick stated that he does not charge for his boxing training, but that a $30 payment is needed for USABoxing fee which the gym is a part of. Wick trains professionals and amateurs alike and sponsorship is needed due to the intensive travel of the Bootheel Bombers.
"There is only one other team in southeast Missouri and that is in Poplar Bluff," said Wick. "Most of the active teams are located in Hannibal, Springfield, St. Louis and we travel as far as Nebraska for matches. With gas prices the way they are, it is costly to travel to these places. It would be great if we could get some solid sponsors to back us because I really believe this is a worthwhile cause that will put the money to good use."
The Bombers are a year-round activity that if nothing else, will get a person in shape. A new member to the gym can expect an hour workout that will start out with 150 situps and pushups apiece. Then, a 25-minute workout on the bike will finish off your warm up. After some time with the gym, the workout can last as long as three hours according to Wick.
"The lasting benefit is that boxing can teach you how to deal with everyday situations," said Wick. "It takes a lot for the kids to step into the ring and get beat on for two minutes, for three or four rounds. Not everybody can do that. The success through training, fighting and winning tournaments is a good example of how boxing teaches to you to get organized and focused."
The boxing area at MaxOut has a spacious weight training area with machine and free weights plus numerous treadmills, has two sparring areas for boxers, speed and heavy bags.
For Kafern Williams, age 29 from New Madrid, his four months with Wick has been well worth the time and effort.
"The program has taught me patience, it humbles me and has made for a more healthy lifestyle," said Williams, who has had three fights since joining the gym. "I eventually want to box professionally, but I have a long way to go. When I first got here, I was a street fighter. But everybody who trains here is like a family. They have taught me a lot and I think with each day I am improving. I don't have time for all that crazy stuff the youngsters are doing. I am getting older and to be the best in the ring, you have to cut out all the games you played when you were younger. You have to be in peak physical condition, watch your eating habits and cut out the drinking and drugs. It takes a lot of work but it is worth it, I am telling you. I feel great with all the training and exercise we do here. I come and put in a good three or four good hours of training. This the world to me, I love it."
The Bootheel Bombers train at MaxOut from 5 p.m. until the class ends, usually around 9 p.m.