Volunteer spirit rules this corner of the world

Boxing is the only sport that tends to punish its most valuable human asset.

I’m talking about the home-town boxing trainers.

Yes, they are the guys who take that diamond in the rough and polish him — at least in most cases it’s a him — nurture him, guide him and finally prepare him to land that big payday.

They do it all in obscurity.

Then, when their countless hours of volunteer work finally are set to pay off monetarily, they are told to take a hike.

Covering the sport for years in the San Francisco Bay Area, I watched local trainer Terry Lee develop Pittsburg, California, fighter James Page into the WBA welterweight world champion in 1998.

But promoter Don King, who signed Page early in 1998, got rid of all his local ties and assigned his own trainer. King presented Page with an ultimatum: Use his people as manager and trainer or forget about fighting for a title.

For every Floyd Mayweather, who has been trained by his father, Floyd Mayweather Sr., and his uncle, Roger Mayweather, there are countless other fighters who didn’t have the clout to protect their original trainers.

It makes sense, then, when Columbus PAL boxing coach Ron Thompson says, “I really want to stay away from the pros.”

That attitude might be what has kept Thompson coming back to the Columbus gym for 28 years and his co-coach, Ron Taylor, for just about as long. They concentrate on one goal, helping people.

“I believe in giving back,” said Thompson, a former Duke Energy lineman who now is an electrical contractor and general foreman for Bowlin. “We’re all volunteer coaches here.”

Success around the Columbus PAL gym is not measured by amateur titles, but by gains. That might mean weight loss, or landing an effective jab or simply staying out of trouble on the outside.

“We have had a lot of kids who were problem kids,” Thompson said. “Boxing tends to bring them around. If they come in here, they have to keep their nose clean.

“And boxing helps with their self-esteem. Physically, it helps them build.”

They do it all in an environment that is not exactly plush. It’s more concrete than carpet, more water than flavored energy drink, more labor than recreation.

Those without a passion for boxing need not apply, as those not willing to pay the price … well … they will pay the price.

Thompson admits that it’s a little harder to pay the bills these days, but the gym does have a few steady income sources. He charges those who use the gym $75 for the year, but that money just covers hand wraps and mouthpieces.

He invites anyone interested to come to the gym for a look around.

The payoff for the fighters can be big, and it has nothing to do with the dollar.

Four-time Indiana Golden Gloves champion Seth Caffee said boxing allowed him to travel around the United States, something he never would have done, or could have afforded.

Even more important, Caffee said boxing gave him a second family, a place that he belonged. It gave him a positive focus at a time when the negative always was at his door.

Ironically, Caffee now ponders a future professional career, one that might eventually bring the Columbus PAL training staff along.

Thompson said it would take a very special person to induce him to work a pro corner. Perhaps Caffee is that guy.

Let’s hope it doesn’t lead to another broken heart.