Westland Boxing Gym Provides Life Lessons
May 31, 2018
A boxer needs more than just a quick jab or a strong left hook. Erskine Wade knows this from personal experience. He has seen many fighters who had no plan for life when the boxing career came to an end. It is Wade's mission to share the knowledge he has with a new generation of would-be fighters.
A former boxing contender himself, Wade now works as head trainer at the Norwayne Boxing Gym in Westland, which was founded in 2015 by businessman Jeff Styers. The gym is located inside the Jefferson Barnes Community Center in the Westland neighborhood known as Norwayne. Styers is also a former professional boxer who grew up in the Norwayne neighborhood. As founder, he is also the financial backbone of the gym and keeps training and membership fees to a minimum. The affordability of the gym means that those in the community who are not so well off can take advantage of the benefits of athletic training. In 2013, Norwayne was recognized on the National Register of Historic Places for its role housing laborers who manufactured tanks and airplanes during World War II.
As head trainer, Wade teaches his students, most of them teenagers, not only about boxing, but about life in general. The gym's mission statement aims to develop youth into successful adults by way of academic support, physical training and community service. One of Wade's major rules for his students is that academics must come first. The gym utilizes classrooms and learning labs in the community center to ensure boxing students are placing studies in their rightful place. Homework must be completed before the boxing gloves go on.
Wade also takes the teens out into the community to work. They mow lawns, paint, and take out trash for the elderly. Wade stresses to the boys that if they know how to do something with their hands, they will always have some way of earning a living. "He's a good coach," says boxing student Ryan Reed, 15. "He's smart, he makes sure we're doing right."
Sheryl Espinal is booster club president and marketing director for the gym. Espinal says Wade treats the kids like his own family. "What really inspires me is how much Coach Wade really loves the kids," she says.
Wade also interacts with parents, teachers and school principals. If a parent is unavailable, Wade steps in if a student is experiencing some difficulty. While he lets the teens know no one is perfect, he directs them to respect their parents and the other adults in their lives. "I'm involved for the simple reason that I want them to be successful," he says.
Wade also takes on the roles of doctor, lawyer, chauffer, father and preacher. He counsels the youth on the consequences of risky behaviors and the dangers of drugs and street gangs, something Wade experienced for himself when he was younger. Wade emphasizes that they always have a choice in any situation. He tries to let them know that they can trust him. His biggest challenge is the kids he either can't reach or doesn't know how to reach.
Wade wants the community to come to the Norwayne Boxing Gym and see what's happening in the gym and learning center. He and the staff at the gym welcome any offer of assistance from the community, especially tutors. Wade says there are personal benefits to letting kids know someone believes in them.
The Norwayne Boxing Gym is located In the Jefferson Barnes Community Center, 32150 Dorsey, in Westland. The phone number is 734-419-2294. Children as young as 8 years old can enroll for boxing training.
At the Westland City Council meeting held on May 7, 2018, four of Coach Wade's students were recognized for their achievement at the Golden Gloves Boxing Tournament and for their work within the community, including shoveling snow, mowing lawns and helping elderly residents.
Photos by Renee Summers