Sun, Sep 24, 2006 - Page 22 News List

Battle to save The Kronk enters final round

STEWARD'S FOLLY Veteran trainer Emanuel Steward is slowly bankrupting himself to keep the famous boxing gym alive, but he can't keep it going for much longer

AP , DETROIT

US boxer Jermain Taylor, center, remains in the ring with his trainer Emanuel Steward, second left, after the undisputed World Middleweight title bout against compatriot Winky Wright at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennessee, on June 17.

PHOTO: EPA

Emanuel Steward sat down on the couch, hunched over and covered his face with his hands -- the same hands that made him an amateur boxing champion as a young man and later helped him tutor some of the greatest fighters who ever stepped in the ring.

"I haven't decided what I'm going to do yet," he said softly. "I don't know."

The Kronk -- the dingy, overheated basement gym that has produced world champions like Thomas Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard and Lennox Lewis -- is nearly down for the count, and Steward isn't sure whether he should throw in the towel.

The 62-year-old Hall of Fame trainer has been reaching into his own pocket to keep the Kronk running in the eight months since Detroit shut down the recreation center that houses it because of a major budget shortfall. The city is permitting the gym to stay open, provided that Steward continues to run it and submits a monthly fee to cover utilities.

But the potential knockout blow came last weekend, when police say thieves entered the building through a window and made off with copper pipes from the basement boiler room, cutting off the gym's water supply.

Steward has been told that it will cost anywhere from US$20,000 to US$40,000 to fix the damage to the gym he has led for more than three decades.

"I don't have that kind of money," he said.

So, he's down to two options: Figure out a way to get the money to keep the gym up and running again or open a new Kronk elsewhere.

Ideally, Steward would like to repair the Kronk, but he worries about not only the cost but also the likelihood of another robbery.

"What's going to stop them from breaking in again? That's my biggest concern," he said.

new location

So, Steward is considering moving the Kronk to another location in Detroit, possibly to the site of a former Fitness USA location that closed five or six years ago. He has approached the building's owner about a possible deal.

In the meantime, Steward is renting space at a gym in Dearborn so his young fighters can train for upcoming matches.

The best of the Kronk's amateurs are scheduled to compete next week in a national tournament in California, and in October, several Kronk fighters are to appear on a card at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

But the uncertainty about the Kronk's future and the prospect of scraping together enough money to send his young fighters across the country is wearing on Steward.

For the time being, though, Steward is doing his best to concentrate on the sport he loves.

During a gathering at his home in Detroit this week, Steward and some friends watched a DVD of a recent fight featuring up-and-coming Irish middleweight Andy Lee.

"He got two punches in before the other guy even tried one," Steward said excitedly after Lee's second blow connected squarely with the face of his opponent, who went sprawling to the canvas.

If Lee someday wins a championship belt as Steward predicts, he will be just the latest in a long line of Kronk fighters to win a professional title.

The Kronk's first professional champion was Hilmer Kenty, an American lightweight who started training there in 1978 and won the WBA title two years later.

Kenty, now a local businessman, is doing what he can to help his former trainer save the gym that launched his career more than a quarter of a century ago.

"I want to do everything possible to not only keep the boxing gym open, but also keep the recreation center open," he said.

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