Norfolk’s new boxing center connects with community in ring and beyond the ropes

Southsidedaily.com is your source for free local news and information in Virginia Beach

Norfolk Boxing Center
Team Norfolk Boxing’s head coach Jerry Hart faces the ring during a sparring session. (Justin Belichis/Southside Daily)

Team Norfolk Boxing fosters local athleticism, celebrates diversity and remembers its colossal legacy and its calling calling the new 13,000 square-foot Norfolk Boxing and Fitness Center on the east side of Harbor Park home.

The Norfolk Boxing and Fitness Center entrance. (Justin Belichis/Southside Daily)
The Norfolk Boxing and Fitness Center entrance. (Justin Belichis/Southside Daily)

The team moved to its new facility in early November. The space features a classroom with computers, a fitness room with plenty of gym equipment, two USA Boxing regulation-sized rings and stadium-style seating.

Boxing-inspired artwork adorns its pale walls. One includes a quote from Norfolk legend and the first female Olympic boxing coach, Gloria Peek, that reads “Jab is your bread and butter.”

People like Peek, 1984 gold medalist Sweet Pete Whitaker and 2008 Olympic coach Dan Campbell put the city and the sport on the global radar. Shaun Wilson, one of the current coaches, trained with the latter in his youth and says he sees in his students what Campbell once saw in his.

Norfolk Boxing Center
Boxing coach Shaun Wilson trained under 2008 Olympic coach Dan Campbell. (Justin Belichis/Southside Daily)

“One of the most disappointing things as a coach is to see something in an athlete that the athlete doesn’t see in themselves,” Wilson said. “Somehow, you got to make him or her see it.”

A boxer on the team who sees it is 18-year-old Nick Sullivan, who flies to Kansas City Sunday to compete in USA Boxing’s 2016 Open National Elite competition. If he wins, he could represent the United States in a tournament internationally.

Sullivan has over 80 fights under his belt and started with the program at its Barraud Park gym when he turned eight. He said he looks up to boxers like Floyd Mayweather because of his style and Andre Ward because of his humility.

Norfolk Boxing Center
Olympic hopeful Nick Sullivan hitting a heavy bag. (Justin Belichis/Southside Daily)

Boxing alone inspired him to graduate from Churchland High School ahead of his class in January.

“My motive was ‘boxing, boxing, boxing,’ so I said ‘let me get school out of the way first to box more,'” Sullivan said. “I’d rather do this professionally than work a nine-to-five job.”

Wilson said Sullivan could take it all, and even had the opportunity to spar with 2012 Olympics silver medalist Shakur Stevenson four times last week.

“I plan to win the whole thing and have no doubt in my mind,” Sullivan said. “The goal is to win this tournament, go overseas to fight, then either the 2020 Olympics or go professional.”

The program sees a diverse group of athletes from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Wilson said he enjoys working with disadvantaged youth the most.

“I know they’re walking a fine line,” Wilson said. “They can go on one side and be successful, or stay on the other side and be a part of their environment.”

The coaching goes beyond the ring for Team Norfolk Boxing. Wilson said the facility’s classrooms helps sharpen students’ minds with access to computers and programs after school.

Norfolk Boxing Center
Boxing gloves atop one of two USA Boxing regulation size rings at the Norfolk Boxing and Fitness Center. (Justin Belichis/Southside Daily)

“It gives them an opportunity to come in, get on the internet, do projects and reports,” Wilson said. “They even have this thing called Reflex, a math program for elementary school kids.”

Reflecting on Campbell’s coaching style, Wilson said he was more of a life coach to his team than a boxing coach, and that he was never fully satisfied with results, even when someone would win.

“He never made you feel like you had made it, or that you did your best,” Wilson said. “Some people may look at that in a negative way, but it wasn’t. What that made you do was try harder and push harder.”

It’s a universal lesson Wilson said applies to life, with or without boxing gloves on. Wilson said Campbell’s efforts helped team members become successful in the community more than it helped to mold professional boxers.

“He just pulled something out of us, and that’s something I’d like to translate to the kids,” Wilson said. “Everyone who walks in the gym may not have the same ability or goals … most people who train here don’t expect to be professional boxers, but they still train like that’s the goal.”

The first big event the Norfolk Boxing and Fitness Center is the Virginia 2016 State Silver Gloves competition on Dec. 17.

Team Norfolk Boxing starts its students as young as eight. (Justin Belichis/Southside Daily)
Team Norfolk Boxing starts its students as young as eight. (Justin Belichis/Southside Daily)