Cinematography: Ninnio Spaulding // Still Photography+Words: Thayne Jongeward
Something feels both off and oddly nostalgic as I descend the stairs. The choice to use ruddy tiles with their random flecks to hide stains was a prescient one. A couple steps further and I realize what, exactly, is off.
It smells like a urinal down here.
As the odor hits me, so does the view into the gym. A sea of off-white is starkly lit with flourescents. The space clearly dedicated to the four posts that anchor the ropes. It’s funny how a square in the right environment is instantly recognizable as a sanctuary to combat. In the right environment, a square is actually a ring.
A dystopian buzzer breaks my train of thought and fighters regroup after what I learn are thirty second breaks in their brutally elegant workout. You’ve seen boxing movies.
One station is dedicated to the jump rope. One is the speed bag. There’s a ladder drill station. Speed bag. Heavy bags.
In the ring, Dom is doing glove work. He and his fighters are performing a ritual dance. He calls out numbers and they throw the corresponding blow. He returns some blows with a slap, ducks under others, and spins to catch some behind his back. Sabreless fencing.
No music plays. Little chatter happens. This isn’t abnormal, but we later learn that one of the long time coaches died and everyone just found out earlier that day. As we learned in our interview, this isn’t uncommon. So few kids get involved in boxing that qualified coaches are aging and increasingly rare.
One of the veteran coaches is bopping a child with pool noodles. Benny seems to be the personal trainer of the youngest boxer; Julisa’s daughter. It’s difficult to tell who’s having a better time.
What is clear is that I’m observing a family in action.
The Yakima Eagles Boxing Club is the only independent, 100 percent volunteer boxing program left in Yakima. YPAL also operates in town, but not only does it get more (or any) press, some kids may have any number of reasons to not get excited to hang out with law enforcement when they start their journey. Recruits might be leaving a life of gangs, drugs, abuse, poverty, or any other number of sadly common problems in this town. The young men we got to meet and talk to had been ushered into manhood by Benny, Dom, and others after arriving as lost boys; angry and fighting against circumstances beyond their control.
I am so grateful there are people like this in our community, that literally fight to make a difference though no one ever sees their work. If you would like to know more after watching our interview, please message us and we can get you in touch with Dom for more details.
Thayne Jongeward is a Yakima photographer and Denizen cofounder who's raising an amazing daughter while wondering daily why he assigned himself so much writing homework.