By Jeff Wagner

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The name on the front door of a former Minneapolis fire station on the city’s north side fits like a glove when you see the flurry of punches flying across the ring inside. But learning to throw a clean jab is not the main hook of this gritty sanctuary.

“It’s like another home. That’s what it feels like to me,” said Andrea Scott.

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The 16-year-old Patrick Henry High School junior has been coming to the Northside Boxing Club since she was just 12.

“My mom was coming here for herself and then she was like you know what, this would be a good place for me to get some discipline,” she said, joking that it definitely felt like punishment during her first days at the gym.

That tough love from coaches is what keeps Garrett Neal coming back well into his 20s.

“They don’t really like beat around the bush. They say what you need to hear, not what you want to hear,” Neal said. “They like test you by testing your heart sometimes, too.”

That’s the mission for Mohamed Kayongo, who goes by Moe. Once a professional boxer, he and other trainers have been teaching the sweet science to kids of all ages since the gym opened more than five years ago.

“Boxing builds your character. You’re gonna know really like who you are,” Kayongo said. “You’re gonna get tired. You’re gonna feel like you don’t want to do it. But you’re gonna dig deep…make you tap in the deepest of your heart.”

Fostering that “no-quit” mentality, while also giving boys and girls a safe haven after school, proves the training here goes beyond boxing. The gym is free of charge to anyone 21 years old and younger.

“It’s the transformation of the youth in our community,” Kayongo said.

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Coaches and older boxers act as mentors, bringing positive influence and the wisdom of older brothers or uncles. They try to steer young people down the right path as the temptation to commit crimes rises around them.

Neal said he often sees kids who are living troubled lives and wishes he could tell them: “You don’t have to go out there prove something to nobody, prove something to people don’t really care about you. They don’t care whether you live or die. There’s people in here that want to see you succeed and grow in life.”

Scott has seen it as well.

When the gym temporarily closed during a COVID-19 surge in the late fall of 2020, she said some teenagers missed out on the consistency of visiting the gym.

“It’s actually really sad and it hurts me sometimes, because I see people that I really love outside in the street. That’s why I tell them all the time, come down to the gym because it will discipline them,” she said.

Even if they don’t feel like boxing, Kayongo said all young people are welcome. Whether it’s to get a free meal or utilize their new computer lab to finish homework, he’d rather they have a safe place to go after school. It’s a place where someone is always in your corner, well after the bell sounds.

“The more people we have, the more I feel we’re reaching out to the community,” Kayongo said.

The gym is open six days a week, located on the corner of North 33rd Avenue and James Avenue. It’s open 4 p.m.- 7 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 10:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Saturday. Adults can join as well for a monthly membership fee.

For more information, click here.

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Jeff Wagner