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Northside Boxing Club Fulfills Dreams

Article and photos by Merle Minda

Visionary founder Ryan BurnetRyan Burnet is best known as a restaurateur plus other endeavors around town, with popular restaurants such as Bar La Grassa, Burch Steak, and Crisp & Green in his stable. But there was something else on the mind of this successful 38-year old businessman – boxing. He had picked up the sport when he was younger, loved it and even boxed competitively for a bit. Something about boxing was in him and he decided to do something more – for kids who could benefit from the determination, discipline and mental challenges the sport provides.

Thus the non-profit Northside Boxing Club* was born. Indefatigable, Ryan found and totally rehabbed an old fire house on the Minneapolis North Side; the place was boarded up and “a complete wreck inside; it needed everything,” says Ryan. But it was dry and secure, with 10,000 square feet that could be utilized. And Ryan went on a mission, raising $850,000 in a year-long capital campaign to outfit and equip this new boxing gym, bringing the sport to Northside kids who wanted to participate.

The old firehouse has been transformed into the Northside Boxing Club.

Now, two years later, the Northside Boxing Club is running at full speed. The program is free to boys and girls, ages 9-21, from nearby neighborhoods. The gym accommodates about 40 kids in two after-school periods, 4:00 to 5:30pm and 6:00 to 7:00pm. The kids are truly dedicated and are there nearly every day after school. Open boxing happens on Friday afternoons. Training varies and includes boxing drills, running and strength conditioning, and technique work. Each daily session ends with a healthy meal, also free to participants.

Coach Moe Kayongo works with kids.

Coach Phil Williams (right) and one of his young boxing students demonstrate their logo/hands up position which means "overcoming struggle."

Professional boxing experts serve as coaches who are also deeply involved with these young people. Coaches Phil Williams and Moe Kayongo are in it for the long haul and are there every day during boxing hours, also serving as role models, counselors, friends and parental figures at times. Both are professional boxers who know the sport well.

“Boxing parallels life,” says Phil Williams. “You get out of it what you put in; that’s what we teach here. We push these kids by believing in them and helping them to find their own motivation,” Phil continues. 

15-year-old Trell shows off his National Championship award belt.

And the kids love every minute. Phil says he often has to push them to go home at the end of the day…"I am home!” they often say. 15-year old Trell is a freshman at North Community School. He won a local boxing competition in his age group; the gym then sent him to the national competitions in Independence, MO, where he won the national championship. Everyone is very proud of his success.

Sparring in the ring, watched closely by Moe. 

The main floor has a beautifully equipped regulation boxing ring, surrounded by a raft of boxing equipment. The kids I saw were involved every moment – no sitting around. Exercising, all kinds of boxing practice – either with a coach or under a coach’s watchful eye – not a moment is wasted. There is a quiet room for study and a yoga studio on the second floor. Dinner comes at the end of practice and the food is good; from restaurant Bar La Grassa the day I was there.

Senior high school student Chello gets ready for his boxing mitts to be put on.

Young man with a plan works out solo. 

“These kids have to learn to eat good food too,” Phil notes. “And that means eating well for health, not just chips and candy bars. We teach everything we can here.” Phil says, “Boxing reflects life, you can apply it to your life. But you can’t cheat it!”

Happy boxing participant says "I love it here."

Girls box too!The club’s stated Mission is “to effect positive change in North Minneapolis youth through boxing and physical fitness.” They have a vision too, because this effort is all about vision and motivation. Their Vision is to “create a community of hopeful and empowered youth, who achieve self-discipline, confidence, compassion and respect.” Pretty big words for a boxing club, but then this is no ordinary such space. 17-year-old participant Meti, a high school senior, said “the coaches here push you but they believe in you, they see potential in you. But you have to put in the work.” Founder Ryan Burnet is continuing his funding efforts for next year; he is so pleased with the continued positive community response.

Northside Boxing Club is located at 33rd and James Avenue North in Minneapolis. Classes are free for Northside kids, but adults can also join for a monthly fee or by volunteering. More information online.

*Note: This club was originally called Fighting Chance Boxing Club, and later rebranded as Northside Boxing Club.

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About Merle Minda

Journalist and free-lance writer Merle Minda writes about travel, business, people profiles and other subjects for a number of national and regional publications, including Delta SKY, Mpls/St. Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Business, Star Tribune, Twin Cities Statement, Minnesota Monthly, and now Mill City Times. She can be reached at or on the web.

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