by Mark Van Streefkerk
Boxing has a special connection with South End communities, mainly because it’s so much more than just a sport. The Seattle boxing scene serves many different — and overlapping — groups of people: those primarily into fitness, kids seeking an afterschool activity, youth getting away from street-involved life, women, the LGBTQ+ community, families, and elders looking to give back. While boxing gyms were closed for in-person training for much of last year, these beloved cornerstones of South End communities have recently opened back up to full capacity. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to don a pair of boxing gloves and learn how to throw a proper jab, now is a great time to try.
“To me, boxing gyms have been a secular version of churches: a place for people to go and have refuge … and not be judged for anything that you would normally get judged for in the world. You just come here and work,” said coach Tricia Arcaro Turton, founder of Arcaro Boxing in the Central District.
Through her own time as an amateur and professional boxer, as well as a coach, Turton has seen people of marginalized identities develop their own sense of empowerment through the sport. “When you discover you can deliver power through your fists — I think that’s so intriguing. ‘I can do that. I created that force. I actually have that ability.’”
Reign City Athletics Boxing founder Troy Pangilinan grew up in South Seattle and said that as a “young immigrant kid,” it was his boxing gym that gave him strength. “I had a group of people who were teaching me and telling me that I’m capable of anything I set my mind to,” he remembered. “It was in contradiction to a greater community telling me ‘this is the limit of what you can do because this is where you come from.’”
Boxing has always had a knack for favoring the underdog. Juan Garcia, coach and manager of the Sea Mar Youth Boxing Club said, “Historically, boxing has always been a sport for the disadvantaged, the poor, those who don’t have a lot.” He noted that boxers like Julio César Chávez and Manny Pacquiao came from poverty to become some of the most highly regarded champions of all time.
Whether you’re looking for an activity for the whole family, getting back into fitness after lockdown life, looking to compete, or exploring the meditative inward journey through the fighting arts, check out these six South End boxing clubs and find your new community.
Almost all of these clubs offer free or sliding scale membership pricing, and every coach interviewed said they never want money to be a barrier to boxing.
Located at 1208 East Jefferson Street in the Central District, Arcaro Boxing was founded by Turton. After her own competitive boxing career and managing at a different gym for 10 years, she decided to make the leap and start a boxing community of her own.
“I started out in Pratt Park in March of 2013, just hanging my heavy bag on the basketball hoop there,” she said.
Ten months later, she established the current location as Arcaro’s home base. The coaching team at Arcaro includes both men and women who have been at various points amateur or professional boxers. Turton intends to coach many future champion boxers, but her gym is suitable for kids, beginners, amateurs, and pros of all levels.
“I think [having] elders and youth together is extremely important. We have youth from age six up to 70+ in here,” Turton said. “Once you walk through the door, whatever status or labels [you have] really don’t exist. You’re a boxer, and you come in and work on your skills and work on yourself.”
Turton describes the atmosphere of her gym as “respectful, inviting, and dedicated,” and believes that money shouldn’t get in the way of people boxing. “I want everybody to have a clean slate — just walk in and work,” she said.
Reign City Athletics Boxing
Pangilinan grew up in Columbia City. “… [A]t the height of the gang-bang era, the ’90s, [was] when I really started boxing,” he said. “My coaches kept a short leash on me. They were calling me at night: ‘Are you home? Get your homework done?’” Pangilinan hopes that he and coach Ann Bailey can offer that same support and accountability to members of Central District communities.
Reign City Athletics Boxing (RCA) originally started in 2012 as a mixed martial arts gym, was housed in a few different locations over the years, and eventually settled at 5601 Rainier Ave South. Coach Bailey had previously coached at Cappy’s before joining forces with Pangilinan in 2019. Together the two coaches cultivate an atmosphere of inclusiveness. “Having a family vibe means everyone is there for each other, challenging each other, putting in the hard work with each other,” Bailey said.
That spirit of inclusiveness also extends to the LGBTQIA+ community. RCA staff make sure to ask for people’s pronouns and do what they can to make people feel at home. “Boxing is intense, emotional, physical training,” Bailey said. “We want the whole person to feel like they can show up.”
Two years ago RCA competed in their first international tournament, the West Coast Wonder Women boxing tournament in Sooke, British Columbia. The tournament is one of the few all-women boxing tournaments in the world, and the subject of the documentary All Female Card, now in post-production.
Sea Mar Youth Boxing Club
Coach Juan Garcia has over 23 years of coaching experience in both eastern Washington and South Park. Around 2000, he partnered with Sea Mar Community Health Center to launch the Sea Mar Youth Boxing Club at 9635 Des Moines Memorial Drive South. The club trains both boys and girls from ages 10 to 17 in the South Park area.
At the time when the club started, Garcia remembered there was more gang activity and youth violence in the area. These days youth violence has decreased, and Garcia thinks the boxing club is one of the youth services that has helped. “The boxing gym I believe has helped the kids stay off the streets — focus on their education,” he said. Through boxing, youth learn important coping skills for life, like self-confidence and how to deal with losing.
For kids who want to compete, the club has a team that travels to tournaments, including competitions in Las Vegas and California. “We’ve had some champions over the years,” Garcia said.
One of the most rewarding things Garcia experiences as a coach is seeing kids he previously trained now bring their own kids back to the gym. “We don’t turn anybody away. Our gym has been free for 20 years. Your payment is your sweat, your attitude, and your behavior. That’s the payment they’ve got to give to us,” Garcia said.
The Sea Mar Youth Boxing Club currently operates Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 7 or 8 p.m.
The Boxing Gym Westside
Though their White Center gym was one of the businesses destroyed in a fire on July 5, The Boxing Gym Westside (TBGW) has taken the setback in stride. “Champions adjust,” said Coach Lee Torres. “You start off with a plan, and then you have to change from round to round.”
Now the gym operates on a limited schedule at the Southwest Boys & Girls Club while they search for a new home. “[The Boys & Girls Club] were really kind enough to work with us to make some space so we could continue offering something to our community,” Torres said.
Torres, who has been coaching boxing for about 15 years, learned to box in his hometown of Chicago before coming to Seattle. In 2013 he opened TBGW with the intention to create a boxing “school of sorts,” where people could “become technically sound boxers, regardless of whether or not they wanted to perform at the competitive level.” Along with the technical training of boxing, a supportive, inclusive community organically formed with the gym. They have boxers as young as 12 all the way up to adults in their late 60s.
“All genders and ethnic or cultural backgrounds are welcome at the gym,” Torres said. “When you walk in the door, you’re a boxer. You’re a student who’s learning how to box at the gym.”
TBGW is currently accepting new boxers even during their limited offerings. Readers who’d like to support the gym financially can donate to their GoFundMe campaign.
South End Boxing Club
If you see a group of boxers training at Jefferson Park on Monday evenings, it’s probably the South End Boxing Club (SEBC). The club is a community-based nonprofit boxing organization that offers classes for kids and adults free of charge. Launched in 2011, the club was training out of the Rainier Beach Community Center before the pandemic. Now that restrictions have been lifted, SEBC is seeking to rebuild their ranks and secure some more funding before returning to either the community center or another building.
Head coach Zeandre Braxton fell in love with the sport during his teens. “I grew up with not the best life, fighting and running around the area,” he said. Eventually Braxton began training at Cappy’s under Bailey’s guidance. Braxton went on to box competitively through Cappy’s and later RCA before joining the coaching team at SEBC about two years ago.
“The program is to help give back to the community,” he said. “It’s to keep kids and adults from hanging around outside and doing things they shouldn’t be doing … It helps the mind, body, and soul. It helps people of all ages connect better with themselves.”
Braxton has also seen SEBC bring together kids from different backgrounds who might not have hung out together if it weren’t for boxing. The club coaches youth ages 8 to 18 and adults of all ages. Right now, SEBC meets every Monday at Jefferson Park, “right past the basketball court and skate park,” offering a youth class at 6:15 p.m. and an adult class at 7:15 p.m.
Cappy’s Boxing Gym
Cappy’s Boxing Gym was founded in the Central District in 1999 by Cap Kotz. Now in its 22nd year — after a 2018 move into a new building at 2719 East Union Street — the gym has shifted focus from competition to mainly fitness boxing classes. Owner Mike Priebe took over after Kotz retired about three years ago and said their fitness classes are “our bread and butter.”
Cappy’s operates on a pay-what-you-can model for memberships, from free to $250 per month.
The gym offers Flow and Mobility classes — sessions that focus on floor drills, pilates, yoga, and flexibility — as well as Boxing 101, a Spar Light class, and more. They also work with middle schools in the area to provide fitness curriculums. Cappy’s has a nonprofit component that hosts free public workouts at parks and life skills workshops like learning how to unclog a sink or change a tire on a car.
Above all, Priebe wants Cappy’s to be an inclusive and welcoming space, especially for the LGBTQIA+ community. “It’s a big part of our concept of the gym as being a safe place — the kind of place where anyone and everyone can come and not only work out free of judgment and harassment — but in a safe environment where people can do a lot of self-growth,” he said.
Editors’ Note: A previous version of this article misspelled “Reign City Athletics Boxing” and listed an incorrect address for the gym. This article was updated on 07/26/2021 with the correct spelling and correct address.
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