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— In the basement hall of the former Our Lady Gate of Heaven church on the northwest side of Detroit, 40-pound bags dangle from the ceiling above to the checkered-tile floor.

The laboratory of "the sweet science," a boxing ring, dominates the biggest room of the new Kronk Gym, which opened in May.

Marlon Thomas, a retired amateur, moves about, coaching fighters, mostly kids from around the city, some of whom have not reached their teenage years.

"I've been at the Kronk since I was a 10-year-old," Thomas said of the late Emanuel Steward's gym that made the city an international hub of boxing. It closed in 2006.

"When I got down to Kronk, to see something that good and that advanced, and knowing why Emanuel was doing certain things for us, and that he wasn't just going through the motions — we were really fighting.

"To see that building close like that, it was a hurting feeling. It was a black eye for Detroit, with all the champions Detroit has produced.

"Manuel took it to another level, he made it global."

In many ways, it still is.


Gym attempts to capture the spirit of the original building and Emanuel Steward.

Kronk Gym, part of the tradition of sport in Detroit, is reopened, with the family and beneficiaries of Steward, the late great boxing trainer, recommitting to the development of youth and amateur boxers in a club that from the 1970s through 2006 produced a string of professional champions, some of whom gained fame around the globe.

Fighters still associated with Kronk include Wladimir Klitschko, heavyweight champion in five divisions; Adonis Stevenson, the reigning light-heavyweight champion in three divisions; and Anthony Dirrell, the former WBC super middleweight champion.

Klitschko, Stevenson and Dirrell do not train frequently at the new Kronk Gym. But their trainers are there, with other fighters, carrying on Steward's legacy.

The trainer of Dirrell and Stevenson, Javan "Sugar" Hill, Steward's nephew and a former Detroit policeman who helped revive the amateur training program at the Kronk in the 1990s, is on the staff. So is Klitschko's trainer, Johnathon Banks, a former cruiserweight champion.

Their impact is on a new generation, too.

Jayda Thomas, 17, was headed to the 2015 Junior and Youth Women's World Championships in Taiwan in May when she withdrew because of an illness.

Thomas' success proceeds from the ethic Steward asserted: "I'd rather spend the rest of my life with amateurs and helping them."

After the original Kronk closed, there was a brief attempt to open a new home in a storefront on West Warren. It did not last.

Steward died in 2012.

And now, Steward's daughter, boxing promotor Sylvia Steward-Williams, has found a new home, thanks to Bishop Kenneth Tate, who purchased the closed Gate of Heaven church to establish the Body of Christ International Church on the site at West Chicago and Mettetal.

"It took a lot of work," said Steward-Williams, president of the nonprofit organization that is now Kronk Gym. "It's a labor of love, and it was my father's legacy.

"His main thing was amateurs, and that was his desire.

"My main thing was to continue on, and my mother wanted it to go forward."

It requires fundraising, and Steward-Williams said she and others are doing that, continually. The Kronk Gym is organized under federal law as a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization formed to further amateur athletics, and donations are "always welcome," she said

Nurturing generations

As a longtime boxing promoter, Steward-Williams knows her way around the sport.

Her mother, Marie Steward, also nurtured boxers, in Detroit. Some of the older Kronk fighters recall her making meals, just like her husband, to keep them healthy and teach the essential concepts of nutrition to young athletes.

The courtly matriarch of the enterprise maintains a low profile.

"You can interview her," Steward-Williams said of her mother, laughing. "If she'll talk!

"She tries to stay low-key."

"Even from the beginning, when Tommy and they were little, she made sure all of the kids had whatever they needed," Steward-Williams said of her mother and the former champion, Thomas Hearns. "She's always been there. It's part of her life.

"Her main thing was to make sure this gym takes off."

Asked for an interview, with a kind, appreciative smile, Marie Steward quietly said, "That's not what I do."

Then she added, "Just write a good story about my daughter!"

At the new Kronk Gym, the past is present, and they are looking forward.

"Around '96 or '97, I walked into the old Kronk Gym," Banks said, smiling broadly at the memory. "The door opened, and it hit me like it was a heat wave."

Steward famously kept the gym hot to encourage the endurance of his boxers.

It was easy to do. There was an ancient, hard-working boiler running overtime in the basement to heat a less than well-sealed public building, constructed in 1921 amid the looming factories and multi-family homes that dominated the area. Steward just kept the doors and windows closed, and the workouts in perpetual motion.

"I walked in and looked around, and I saw former and current world champions training," Banks said. "Emanuel Steward was there.

"And everyone outside of the ring was yelling at everyone inside the ring about what they were doing, how they were doing it. It was like nothing I'd ever seen, as a young teenager.

"It instilled something inside of me.

"Kronk was like no other gym in the world. It made that impression on you. It would make that impression on you, even if you didn't know anything about boxing.

"For someone who loved the sport, like me, the impression is everlasting."

Detroit has rich boxing history

Reopening the Kronk Gym preserves this history of a sport in Detroit that is nearly as rich as baseball, hockey, football and basketball.

The arc is traced by the careers of people like Banks and the Stewards.

Banks started boxing as a young boy at the Brewster Recreation Center, on the east side, amid the storied Brewster federal housing complex, which is now mostly destroyed.

He eventually walked over to Kronk.

Decades earlier, Emanuel Steward and his brother started at the Brewster. Eventually, they made their way to Kronk.

And, it was in the late mid-1920s, when boxing was king and Jack Dempsey perhaps the most famous man in the country, 11-year-old Joseph Louis Barrow walked into the same city parks and recreation facility at 637 Brewster St.

Because of his race, and despite a brilliant amateur career, Joe Louis would have trouble booking fights. But in 1937, Louis began a 12-year reign as heavyweight champion, the longest in history.

When young guys like the Steward brothers and Banks left Brewster for the Kronk Gym, they could hardly have known they were perpetuating a great athletic tradition in the city.

It is a boxing legacy in Detroit that Emanuel Steward resurrected, and made his own.

Priority put on amateur success

And now, his family and fighters he trained carry on, on the northwest side, amid the musty aroma of perspiration, the sound of leather gloves smashing human flesh and the dreams of a new generation.

"To get back and help the Stewards is exciting," said Milton McCrory, head trainer at Kronk Gym and the first of the champions from Steward's stable when he won the WBC welterweight crown in 1983.

McCrory's immediate goal is to re-establish some of the amateur success of the Kronk Gym, under the late Steward, in a new generation.

"I would like to win a national championship, a Golden Glove championship, the AAU nationals," he said. "I would like to get a kid, a few kids, to go international.

"Just the experience I had with boxing, I would like them to follow that, in some sense.

"To keep Manny's heritage alive, we'd have to have a lot of winners. Just to start, I think the facility we have is fine. But I think we can eventually go off to something bigger, when we start jelling."

For now, though, the dream has a home, again. And youngsters from around the city, skinny-arms and legs, or not, showing up to fight.

"I think the big thing is," Steward-Williams said, "the kids just have a home, again."