Originally created 04/21/00

Coach pulls no punches with students



KINGSLAND, Ga. -- Eric Taylor and Shauwntrell Roberts are soaked in sweat as they punch and jab at each other, dancing with staccato steps and breathing hard.

Around the boxing ring, others cheer them on.

Although the two teen-agers from Camden County High School are too focused to see anything outside the ring, a sign on a nearby wall says, "The harder you train the luckier you get."

In the middle of such a sparring match, no one feels lucky -- except for Steve Bell, who is watching his dream unfold.

Mr. Bell is a former light-heavyweight boxer from Philadelphia who runs the nonprofit World Class Boxing Club in downtown Kingsland. Youths ages 8 to 18 from southeast Georgia and the Jacksonville, Fla., area learn to box free, provided they maintain good grades in school.

Mr. Bell began coaching students in the garage of his Kingsland home in 1994, just for fun. He opened the club in a former auto parts store in 1998, and now he teaches about 100 students a year.

"It was my dream to run a free boxing club so that kids would have something positive to do with their time," Mr. Bell said. "... We are able to take them off the streets and get them into our gym."

The club's philosophy is to teach young people to set goals and work toward them.

"To win at boxing you have to eat, sleep, drink and train boxing every day," said Mr. Bell, a civilian employee at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base. "That's what it takes to get to the top. If you don't want it, it won't be there for you. You have to get out there and make things happen to be successful and that's true of anything in life."

It was especially true of Mr. Bell's dream to make free boxing lessons available to students.

"When he first started talking about getting a boxing gym here, people were laughing at him," said his wife, Toni Bell. "It was hard on him and our family because sometimes he got very discouraged, but he never gave up."

The club is funded through a variety of sources, including a state grant, community fund-raisers and funds from drug seizures by the Camden County Sheriff's Department. The drug funds provide for the club's rent, utilities and supplies.

Mr. Bell has a volunteer staff of about 10 people.

"They have done an outstanding job," said Sheriff Bill Smith. "I'm glad our department got involved with this program.

The best student boxers travel to competitions. World Class Boxing has earned more than 30 state titles in the past five years, Mr. Bell said.

Last year, Mr. Bell and his coaches pulled two boxers with poor grades from training or competing.

"They were mad at me, but I did it for them," Mr. Bell said. "The team is more focused now and the two boys have gotten their grades up.

It's not enough to be good at boxing if you don't have anything to fall back on."