03/25/18 — Boxing --Steve Ashford: Part pugilist, part civic pillar

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Boxing --Steve Ashford: Part pugilist, part civic pillar

By John Joyce
Published in Sports on March 25, 2018 3:08 AM

The door remains cracked despite the cold.

Inside, the frigidity goes unnoticed.

If you're working, you're warm.

Each day, from about 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., kids age 5 to 18 busy their hands and feet with the rhythms of the heavy bag, the speed bag, jump ropes and treadmills.

In between the four corners and red and blue ropes, they shadow box or run through combinations called out to them by their trainer ---- the man they all call "Coach."

"One, one, three, duck," Steve Ashford calls out to a young student of the sweet science.

Three jabs, a side step into a hook and dip under Ashford's sweeping padded hand later, the teacher rewards the student with a word of praise and another combination called out to him.

The road from Goldsboro to Silver and Golden Gloves championships begins at the Ashford Boxing Gym, located in the back of the Herman Park Center at the corner of East Ash Street and North William Street.

Goldsboro High School looms in the distance, mostly under gray skies this time of year as the lamb of spring tries desperately to knock out Old Man Winter. So far, despite a couple of standing eight counts, the wiley veteran is holding on.

The surrounding streets are home to gangs, drug dealers, broken-family homes and ---- for those living near those conditions but not necessarily under them ---- decent, hard working folks trying to find ways to shelter their kids from such negative influences.

That's where Ashford steps in.

"We are all looking for somebody at a certain age to take authority and to kind of believe in you," he said.

In the ring ---- Ashford trains adults also ---- recent Golden Gloves winner Sage Hicks, a 21-year-old airman stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, runs through a series of hand and footwork drills.

Outside the ring, a hand full of kids, none of them over the age of 12, shadow box or pound the heavy bag.

 "Just like I had a parent who called me today and she said her son couldn't come because he had messed up in school. So I told her to tell him that's messed up. He disappointed Coach, I need him here," Ashford finished the thought.

Over the last five years, through a dedicated sponsor and a partnership forged with the city's Parks and Rec department, Ashford has seen his pupils go on to graduate high school and either struggle to find work, grind out an education through college or head off to the military.

Each option, despite any set backs, beat the alternative, he said.

"I went the street route because of boredom, not having something to do."

Boxing is what turned Ashford away from the streets, and if not for a shoulder injury that still nags him today, he might have had a nice career.

Instead he came home to offer kids from the same streets that raised him an alternative they might not have otherwise.

 "So, if you ever find somewhere to go and its affordable to go, and you can go every day, I mean, why not?"

Ashford knows not every person who walks through his door is going to be genuinely interested in boxing. Certainly not all of them are going to become Silver Gloves champions, Golden Gloves champions or professional fighters.

But they will gain something, he said. They will learn that anything in life you want to obtain, you're going to have to work for.

He prepares them for that using the only tool he has ---- a love of boxing.

"Whatever God has blessed me with to rub off on others..." he said, searching for the words to describe how he influences his students.

"That's what happens to us in life, influence. I got into this because I was influenced by somebody else. So far, my kids have been doing good. They get out of school and maybe after a couple of months they can't find a job. Or they try college and it doesn't work for them, but after a couple of months they get a job," he said.

Opportunity, though, costs money. Ashford started his gym in 2012, in a vacant garage with no electricity.

After meeting local attorney Billy Strickland at a community meeting intended to identify ways to mentor kids away from the draws of the street culture that surrounds them, Strickland, Ashford said, offered to help.

At first, weary of people who come and go, who talk a good game but don't deliver, Strickland only provided Ashford with a fan to keep the gym cool in the summer, warm in the winter.

Over the last few years, however, through financial contributions and bridging relationships for Ashford, such as with Parks and Rec, the gym is thriving ---- and outgrowing its current space.

Ashford hopes to relocate soon to the recently-vacated W.A. Foster Center. There is no timetable for that yet, and out of town trips to fights and events for his kids cost money, up to $400 and $500 sometimes.

Ashford said he gets the odd offering of gas money here and there, but he needs more sponsors like the one he found in Strickland to really make his dream of putting Goldsboro on the map, as far as the regional, perhaps national boxing world is concerned. He might even churn out a championship contender or two, he said.

In the meantime, Ashford said he remains focused on churning out men ---- taking the boys who come into his gym with untold obstacles in their paths and teaching them how to overcome.

Before training with him, those same kids who've gone on to jobs or to college or the military would have given up after the first no, the first failure, the first road block.

"They learned the hard work from me. The boxing teaches you not to give up. Boxing teaches you that nothing comes easy. You've got to keep striving."