the north face tent Club looks to make boxing a hit in Hastings once again
Rick Stevens can remember when boxing was a big deal in Hastings. If he has his way, it will be again.
Stevens, 46, was a promising fighter himself as a youngster growing up in the area, amassing an impressive 68 4 record between 1974 and 1985 while fighting under Joe Perrella in Sutton and later in Hastings under the guidance of Fred Drummond and Larry Fielder. Offered a shot to train at the Olympic training camp in Colorado at age 15, he felt overwhelmed by the opportunity and turned it down, a decision he has lived to regret.
It wasn’t long thereafter he decided to walk away from the sport all together. But a chance encounter with professional cage fighter Chad Obermiller has brought him back to the sport in which he once excelled.
Obermiller, 36, had been training boxers at Hard Knocks Gym for roughly four years when he met Stevens, who had tagged along to watch his nephew, Dylan Wilson, box. After watching the action, Stevens, who works as general manger of Nebraska Vault Co. in Hastings, offered up his services free of charge to assist Obermiller with the program.
“I could kind of tell that Chad was kind of needing some help, so I just offered him some help,” Stevens said. “I said, ‘I’m a little knowledgeable about the sport. I definitely can help you.’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, why don’t you come in.’ ”
Stevens wasted little time making his impact felt in the program. Between purchasing equipment and securing sponsors for additional equipment, he has helped grow the program by leaps and bounds during his year long involvement as head coach.
“We have come a long, long way,” Stevens said. “We started out boxing on wrestling mats and were just able to buy a competition boxing ring a few months back. A few weeks ago we got an invitation to go fight in the UK, and we’ve barely been open a year.”
Obermiller can scarcely imagine running the program without him.
“Rick knows how to box,” Obermiller said. “There’s a lot more to it than I know. As a cage fighter, I can teach them to hit straight all day long, but as far as getting the proper boxing movement, I get lost.
“Rick does a lot for these kids. It would be hard to find another gym with a coach who is going to buy your gear from head to toe.”
There are 25 full time members in the club, which now fights out of the Phoenix Centre (Old Middle School) gymnasium, 714 W. Fifth St. Fighters range in age from 8 to 35 years old.
While not all of the fighters compete outside the gym, at least two or three have seen extensive action in amateur bouts fought in Denver; Kansas City,
Kan.; Council Bluffs; Iowa; North Platte; and other locations.
For Stevens, his return to boxing may well include a comeback as a fighter at some point. Already he has begun training with the intention of one day going toe to toe with an opponent inside the ring.
“It’s always been a passion of mine,” he said of boxing. “I have three older brothers who boxed, and while I’m not 100 percent locked in that I’m going to return, I’m definitely kicking it around. I’m leaning on the side of I probably will.”
Obermiller, who once toyed with the idea of boxing but prefers to do his fighting in a cage more than a ring, said he’s excited to be working behind the scenes to help grow the popularity of the sport in the area.
“Hastings has the best of both worlds in the fight game right now,” he said. “We’ve got mixed martial arts and boxing. Not many towns around have both.”
Club fighters are required to sign a waiver before stepping into the ring to spar. Those who commit to the program become registered members of USA Boxing, which provides them with insurance that covers both fights and training.
While Obermiller concedes that boxing isn’t for everyone, he believes there is much to take away from it for those who choose to participate. Youngsters devoid of heart should probably invest their time elsewhere, however.
“We don’t like teaching troublemakers how to fight,” Obermiller said. “That’s actually one of the rules: you fight inside the gym, not outside the gym.
“What kind of kids are we looking for? Usually athletic, or anybody willing to develop a good work ethic. You’ve got to be tough as nails: you’re going to get punched in the face, whether you want to or not. Most of our kids are from lower income families. Upper income families don’t like to get punched in the face for fun.”
Though injury can occasionally become part of the experience, Obermiller contends that boxing is actually less dangerous than many other contact sports, including football.
“Everything is dangerous,” he said. “You’re getting hit harder on a regular basis in football than boxing. There’s no denying there’s danger involved, but we’re not just a bunch of thugs jumping in the ring punching each other in the face. There’s style involved.”
Winning isn’t the ultimate goal of the club, though it is certainly the objective in each bout. Giving 110 percent each and every second of each and every round is what both coaches demand from their fighters.
“The biggest thing is that they try hard for their event,” Obermiller said. “We never want them upset when they come out of a fight. We want them to leave it all in the ring. Then they can be happy with themselves.”
Hastings Boxing Club will compete in the Silver Gloves Tournament in Fremont on Nov. 7. Winners will advance to regional competition, with an opportunity to reach the nationals if victorious.
In their most recent competition, the club took three fighters to Topeka, Kan., to compete in the October Smoker event. Both Tristen Obermiller (95 pounds), Chad’s son, and Tevin Anderson (185) dominated their fights, while newcomer Shadon Doell (125) lasted three rounds but lost by decision.