Young Halifax boxers learn discipline, confidence Coach Tyson Cave presides over free after-school program
About a half dozen kids wearing shorts and T-shirts gather around Tyson Cave at a Halifax boxing club. Some look sheepish, others confused.
The 29-year-old accomplished boxer isn’t about to go easy on his young students, who’ve come after school to learn the basics of the contact sport.
While running laps, Cave caught one boy slowing to a walk. Now everyone has to do 20 pushups to make up for it.
“Boxing is a very dedicated sport and I tell all my kids if you’re not dedicated 100 per cent, you’re in the wrong sport,” says Cave, a multi-time national amateur champion with a 14-1 record as a professional.
“I decided to dedicate myself 120 per cent so therefore I was successful.”
The Halifax native, who’s known as the Prince of Hali in boxing circles, works as a head coach at Palooka’s Boxing Club. Five days a week, the facility offers free boxing and mixed martial arts classes for youth between the ages of 12 and 18.
On this day, some of the kids who’ve come to practise their jab are paying members of the club. Others, like Shyraya Sullivan, have dropped by the airy, brick-walled space to take advantage of the free program.
Sullivan, a sturdy Grade 6 student who looks older than her 12 years, takes powerful swipes at a punching bag with her blue boxing gloves, stopping occasionally to breathe a heavy sigh. Cave braces himself against the bag and shouts out encouragement, coaxing Sullivan to hit harder.
After only a month of training alongside her 14-year-old brother, Sullivan is already dreaming of competing one day. She says she boxes five days a week and has no intention of quitting now.
“I think it’s a good way to stay fit and have fun,” says Sullivan, her dark hair pulled into a high ponytail.
“I learned how if I get into a conflict, how to use my discipline and to not punch somebody or get into a fight with them.”
Discipline is a word that’s thrown around here as often as punches. It’s a key skill Cave tries to teach.
He says the purpose of the after-school program is to give all youth a place to go, make friends, learn responsibility and stay out of trouble and off the streets.
The club, owned by Halifax entrepreneur and long-time boxing enthusiast Mickey MacDonald, funds the program itself.
While the club attracts boxers from all over the city, it’s no coincidence that it’s located on Gottingen Street, a gritty thoroughfare punctuated by small businesses, apartments, government offices, a methadone clinic and a public library. But despite its rough-and-tumble reputation, the street — situated at the edge of the downtown core — has begun to show signs of revitalization in recent years.
Gottingen Street is also home to Uniacke Square, a neighbourhood consisting of low-income housing that has seen its share of violent crime and drugs. It’s also where Cave says he spent part of his youth getting into trouble and “trying to be a man while still being a kid from a rough area.”
At 14, before Palooka’s existed, Cave says he walked into another boxing club on a whim. He recalls the terrifying rush of jumping into the ring for the first time, how it felt to lose and the pact he made with himself to never face an opponent unprepared again.
Boxing gave him something positive to focus on.
“My family didn’t have very much money so I picked a sport that all you needed was your hands,” says Cave, who won the World Boxing Council’s Continental Americas super bantamweight title earlier this year.
“I was getting into some trouble and boxing straightened me out.”
Cave has some mixed emotions about teaching young people to box, but he insists it’s a safe sport when done correctly with the appropriate training.
Jason Downey, who nabbed a gold medal in boxing for Nova Scotia at the recent Canada Winter Games in Halifax, says the sport has taught him not to go out looking for trouble. Instead, the 15-year-old says he’s turned his attention to school work and spending more time with family.
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