By Meredith Sell | Echo
Branden Lockett, 19, punches his brother repeatedly. Sweat dripping from his face, mouthguard covering his teeth, he throws one fist and then the other. His brother, Chuck, 17, returns the favor, thick boxing gloves hitting hard against Branden's bare torso.
Off to the side of the boxing ring, several other guys-most of them high school students-watch, studying the stances, the maneuvers, the flying fists.
"Get your balance, Chuck," coach James "Hook" Williamson yells from outside the ring. "That's it."
This is a common scene in the Boys and Girls Club of Grant County, where every week, Monday through Thursday, members of the Marion Boxing Club come to train.
Hook, 53, a former professional boxer originally from Akron, Ohio, started the club several years ago at the request of Mayor Wayne Seybold.
"He wanted me to get a lot of young kids off the street," Hook said, "and he wanted me to start a boxing program."
The club has its own area above the Boys and Girls Club gym floor, with a boxing ring, speed bags, heavy punching bags and various exercise equipment. Netting and guard rails work as walls on two sides of the space, providing no barrier to the noise of basketballs and squeaky sneakers on the floor below.
The Boys and Girls Club provides all the equipment-mouthguards, protective cups, headgear, gloves-making what could be an expensive sport accessible to whoever is interested.
Hook's arrival was especially exciting for Branden, who has been boxing now for six and a half years.
"I always wanted to fight and then he came," Branden said. "He introduced himself, and he's like, 'Anybody who wants to take boxing and be serious about it, come upstairs.' So I came upstairs, and I've been here ever since."
Branden was the club's first boxer to box competitively, outside of the club. He was also the club's first boxer-and Marion's first-to win the Junior Indiana Golden Gloves (2011).
"It was great-well, really, it was more than great, because it was my second fight ever," Branden said. "After my first fight, I had 10 cancelled straight-nobody else wanted to box me-so they sent me straight to the Golden Gloves. Then, nobody wanted to fight me in the tournament, and I fought the champion and beat him."
Branden describes himself as a balanced fighter. He observes who he's fighting and varies his techniques to match and beat them.
"You really never know what you're going to come up against," Branden said. "You might have a tall guy who runs from you. You might have a short guy who likes to come in at you with everything. So as you're sparring and training, you're not really trying to kill each other. What you want to do is learn each other's techniques."
When Branden's turn in the club's ring is over, he watches the other matches, most of them between boys younger than him and with less boxing experience. He looks for things they need to work on, and coaches them on those. When he notices something they do well, he studies their technique and adds it to his own, blending it with what Hook has taught him.
A key, Branden says, is staying calm: take the punches and look for openings to throw your own. Hook looks for a certain amount of this calmness in his boxers before letting them fight competitively.
"I've got to know you're ready," Hook said. "I've got to see, can you take a punch?"
Having experience in similar sports helps train this calmness. Lorenzo Trevino, 14, has been boxing with the club for a year. This January, he won the Silver Gloves, and about two weeks ago, he won the Golden Gloves. So far, he has only lost one competitive fight.
"My first fight-I knew I wasn't ready, but I wanted to go for the experience," Lorenzo said. "Now, I'm way, way better."
Lorenzo prefers individual sports. The high school student has wrestled since middle school, and done taekwondo since he was four. April 13, he won a double-gold in the black belt division for taekwondo. Right now, he's also running track.
"Normally, I go from track to (boxing), then taekwondo," Lorenzo said. His grades haven't suffered-his last report card had all A's.
This weekend, Lorenzo and the club's newest boxer, Isaiah Watkins, 15, are going to Terra Haute, Ind., to compete in the Junior Olympics for boxing.
Isaiah wants to be a UFC fighter. He comes to the club almost every day to train.
"Fighting is something that you can get better at," Isaiah said. "It teaches you a lot of responsibility . . . and it keeps you out of trouble, definitely. After school, you're not out there, running the streets or selling drugs or smoking or anything. You're in here working out."
Isaiah is determined to graduate high school, and make his family-especially his mom-proud.
"I don't want to be like some fighters (who) just got into fighting 'cause they were good, and they didn't finish high school," Isaiah said. "I want to show people that I'm smart, and I can fight."
Hook has helped Isaiah-and the others-stay motivated.
"He pushes us to go farther in life," Isaiah said.
"A lot of these kids . . . ain't doing nothing," Hook said. "They need someone to guide them the right way . . . I tell them, 'Go to school. Get your grades. You never know, you might be a world boxing champion-or if you don't box, there might be something else that you want to do.'"
Branden may be Hook's first amateur-turned-professional from the Marion Boxing Club. Branden graduated high school this year, mid-term, and now he's working at McDonald's to help take care of his grandma. This summer, he plans to go to boxing camp and then, make boxing his career. Eventually, he'd like to open his own gym and teach people how to box the way Hook has taught him.
"Never slug with a slugger," Branden said. "Never fight defensive with a defensive fighter. Anything you know they're doing, do not do it . . . Fight your own fight. Be your own person."
Lorenzo and Isaiah are in the boxing ring now, sweat dripping, mouthguards bulging through their lips.
"Do it again," Branden yelled. "Step-over. Step-over! Isaiah, get the jab out there!"
Photographs by Timothy P. Riethmiller