North Augusta Boxing Club was more than just a place for Johnnie Cortez Edwards to hang out as a teen.
"I lived in Gloverville in the projects. I had to get out of that environment. This kept me off the streets and out of trouble," said Mr. Edwards, 27, who is North American Boxing Association's featherweight champion.
He will defend his title Jan. 25 in Charlotte, N.C.
Mr. Edwards, who lives in Jacksonville, N.C., spent 10 years under the tutelage of Noah and Jo-Anne Newman, who own and operate the North Augusta club.
He began boxing at the club at age 10 and fought in many matches during his amateur career. He fought in a national Golden Gloves championship in 1997 and was ranked second in the nation in his weight class.
He said he first went to the boxing club to be with his friends.
"I liked the atmosphere," he said.
After high school, Mr. Edwards served in the military for a few years. He turned pro last year and won the featherweight belt Aug. 26. His professional record is 10-0 with seven knockouts.
Mr. Edwards said he plans to stay in boxing for three to five years, after which he will pursue a degree in engineering.
The Newmans are more than just boxing coaches to Mr. Edwards.
"They are like a second family," he said.
He recalls occasions when the pair would give him money to pay for meals and for trips to boxing tournaments.
The Newmans are now realizing a longtime dream of having a new home for their boxing club, which has been operating in a rented facility. Mr. Edwards hopes the community rallies around the club that has meant so much to youths.
"I think it's a dream come true for people around the area. I'm glad they've stuck around," he said.
Although he's moved away from Gloverville, Mr. Edwards still has relatives in the Midland Valley area. He said not a week goes by that he doesn't talk to the Newmans.
The club's new home on South Carolina Highway 421 is under construction. The Newmans said about $50,000 is needed to complete the project.
Donations can be made to P.O. Box 7794, North Augusta, SC 29861. The club is a nonprofit organization, and donations are tax-deductible.
Reach Charmain Z. Brackett at email@example.com.