Kronk champions return to see famous gym vandalized
The sound that filled the basement of the Kronk Community Center was sweet music to boxing trainer Emanuel Steward.
Leather bags and sparring partners were pounded regularly by the likes of Thomas Hearns, Milton McCrory, Jimmy Paul and other champions who trained in the basement of the gym on Detroit’s west side.
The name – and the boxing team that trained here – became known worldwide, just like the Motown sound.
“Look at the gym now,” Hearns exclaimed during a recent return visit to Kronk.
Thomas Hearns was Kronk’s biggest star, a eight-time world champion. He came back to see his former boxing home is pretty well trashed.
Kronk was vandalized for its copper pipes and wiring before then Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick closed it permanently in 2006. Vandals and scrappers have busted their way in once again—taking what they could and leaving their mark.
Former lightweight champion Jimmy Paul also ventured inside an open door to take a look. He thought the building had already been torn down.
“Things happen, times go on,” said Paul. “Ain’t nobody here forever, you know. You look at it and be blessed while we’re here and just take it as it comes (be) cause there’s a lot of stuff you can’t change.”
A floor above where the boxers trained in the graffiti-marred gym, Hearns briefly imagined himself back in time. He pretended to dribble a basketball and shoot from near half court as he did decades earlier before heading to the basement for another day of trading shots in the ring.
The wooden basketball floor has been mostly ripped up now. There is no net or basket. There is also likely no future for Kronk, the oldest of the city’s recreation centers.
Former world welterweight champion Milton McCrory told Detroit 2020 this isn’t the Kronk he remembers. “No, it’s terrible,” said McCrory. “A lot of great memories here though.”
City officials tell Detroit 2020, Kronk is not on the demolition list for blighted buildings. Diane Steward-Jones, the sister of the late trainer, fears Kronk is down for the count. “His goal, as sick as he was, he wanted to get back home, here,” Steward-Jones said. Emauel Steward died on October 25, 2012 at the age of 68. He trained 41 world champions, the majority of them in the dingy basement gym.
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