Rick’s Boxing Club helping Walla Walla youth in new ways

Three nights a week, Rick Brown heads to his gym on Evans Avenue in College Place, where he coaches boxers ages eight and up.  At 71, Brown doesn’t always have the easiest time, but he is a man on a mission.

Brown and his wife, Mosetta, have run Rick’s Boxing Club for six years with the aim of providing a space for all to learn to box and stay off the street.  After an initial clinic at Borleske Stadium with boxers Rick had coached at another gym in town, the club moved into a disused machine shed provided by State Representative Maureen Walsh. Rick has coached several competitive boxers over the years, but to Rick and Mosetta, the club is about more than competition.

“I’m a life coach. That’s the kind of coaching that I do. Boxing’s just an avenue that gives me a chance to teach the life lessons,” Rick said.  “But we do the whole boxing go-around. From basics to advanced, we do it all.”

Rick and Mosetta have lived in Walla Walla since Rick got out of prison in the early 1990s.  These days, their son, Ashaunté Brown, helps them out. Ashaunté learned to box from Rick. Rick isn’t shy about his time in the penitentiary, where he did 26 years on-and-off for a variety of crimes.  He sees it as motivation for his work keeping students out of trouble. It’s also where he did the bulk of his boxing.

“I was taught [when I was] eight by my brother.  He got me into it, and then he moved away and I never got back into it.  But then I went to prison and did a boxing program, and I was what they called a natural.  It was just something I could do,” Rick said.  “I had 16 fights. I lost my very first one … but it taught me a valuable lesson. It’s a serious game, and you’ve got to pay attention to what you’re doing.”

Mosetta, who was attending Walla Walla Community College at the time of Rick’s release, remembers the decision to stay vividly.

“He got out and he said, ‘Oh, this is beautiful…I think God wants us to stay right here.  He’s got work for us to do here.’ And I’m like, ‘Are you talking to him like that?  Tell him no,’” she joked.

The gym has become the center of that work.  To that end, Rick and Mosetta do more than teach boxing. They require anybody in the club to maintain a C average or higher in school, and they teach cursive handwriting in addition to leading community service projects. The Browns are proud to have had over 44 members of their club attend college over the last four years.

“Schoolwork comes before gym. You’ve got to get it up here,” Mosetta said, tapping her head. “We call this a toning place, to tone them and try to mold them into wanting to be something. You know, we don’t say ‘you need to be a nurse, you need to be a doctor.’ We want them to be what they want to be and develop into their own human beings.”

Rick puts it similarly.

“That’s what this program is all about, is just saving kids. Giving them a shot. You know, I try to make it funny out here, but it’s serious,” he said. “But we try to have fun—if kids don’t have fun, they ain’t going to come back.”

Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 3.49.10 PMWEB
Contributed photo by Jackson Clough.

The pair also provides emotional support to the club’s members, especially teenagers.

“If they have problems, and they don’t want to tell their parents about it, well, they feel comfortable with me, and we talk about it, and we try to solve their problems,” Mosetta said.

“And we’ll always tell them, if there’s something that your parents need to know, we’re definitely going to go with you to tell them.  But if it’s just something like … if you didn’t do your homework, and got in trouble, then we have them explain to us … so it puts it back on them, and all of them start thinking, ‘Well, Mom wasn’t wrong.’”

The club is free to all students and children under 18, with the exception of a fee to cover insurance.  The club is a member of USA Boxing, which insures each boxer for any injuries sustained while boxing for a fee of 50 dollars per year.  When they can, Rick and Mosetta try to pay half or more of that fee through fundraising or, if necessary, out of their own pockets.

While the club primarily serves the Walla Walla community, Whitman students are also welcome. Senior Jackson Clough met Rick in the spring of his first year and has worked out at his gym regularly ever since. He, Rick and Mosetta have all developed close friendships in that time.

Clough and senior Evan Martin brought their fellow basketball players to Rick’s gym earlier this fall to work on boxing and to help clean out the back of the gym, which had collected massive amounts of junk prior to its repurposing.

“Rick has these little projects that he’ll do for the landowner, Maureen Walsh, and a lot of times he just has his regular kids go out and help, but they’re little kids and can’t carry a lot of stuff,” Clough said. “So I was like, ‘This could be a team community service thing.’”

Clough also recently completed a short documentary about Rick, Mosetta and the gym, in hopes of drawing attention to their work and help raise funds to keep the club running. Money is a major obstacle to the club. While Rick and Mosetta are in the process of registering the club as a nonprofit with the aid of Blue Mountain Action Council, its day-to-day functioning is at risk. The gym is desperately in need of insulation, which Rick says is his next project.

“It gets really cold in the winter, and it’s pretty much like working out outside when it gets bad, and that’s not possible, especially with some young kids. So that’s the goal,” Clough said.

In the meantime, Rick, Mosetta and Ashaunté continue to coach kids in life and boxing.  At the end of each session, the entire gym goes through the same ritual:

“Come on, hands in. Come on, girls!  Everybody put a hand in,” Rick booms across the gym. On three, I wanna raise the roof. Those angels floating around, they like to hear that … One, two, three … God is good!”

Photo by Keifer Nace.
Photo by Keifer Nace.