As I visited Jack Loew in the new home of his Southside Boxing Gym, I had to ask, “Did you ever think, as a kid from Youngstown, you’d ever accomplish all this?”
“I’ve been asked that question a zillion times, and it’s still no, I never would’ve dreamed it in a million years,” Loew replied.
As Loew prepares Middleweight Champion Kelly Pavlik for his April 17th bout with Sergio Martinez in Atlantic City, I spent some time with him in Youngstown, and to understand Jack Loew, you have to understand Youngstown, Ohio.
A once-thriving city serving as home to America’s steel industry, good paying jobs were plentiful, it was a true American success story.
But those days are gone. In 1995, Bruce Springsteen, with his song, “Youngstown,” recalled the city’s prosperous past:
Taconite coke and limestone fed my children, made my pay
Them smokestacks reachin’ like the arms of God
Into a beautiful sky of soot and clay
That was the Youngstown in which Jack Loew grew up. By the time he graduated high school, the steel mills were on life-support. A few years later, they were dead.
This is the Youngstown that Jack Loew has lived his adult life.
Most people left. The once-bustling city had a population over 166,000 in 1960; by 2008, it was less than 73,000.
But Jack Loew stayed. “I was one of the fortunate ones. I had a job. I was a Teamster.”
In 1988, within a dying city, with his own money, Jack Loew opened the Southside Boxing Gym.
“Right at that time is when our Golden Gloves were on the downside; a lot of the older trainers, such as Eddie Sullivan and Earl Charity, were getting older and getting out of their gyms. And I love the sport so much, and amateur boxing was dying around here. So, I found a little storefront, and we started up a gym. I did it because I love boxing, and I did it to try to keep the Golden Gloves around here going,” Loew said.
In those years, his only payment was gratitude. “I took care of a lot of kids outside of the gym, ones I met in the gym, clothing them, feeding them, housing them when their parents were gone. I enjoyed that part so much; that was gratitude enough. So many of these kids come from broken homes.” It’s something he shares in common with so many trainers across the country.
Even now, with a stable of amateur and professional fighters that keeps him more than busy, Loew remains committed, to this day, that he’ll train any kid that walks through his doors.
Things did get tough in those early days, and he thought of packing it up. Loew credits his wife of 27 years, Marlene, for keeping him in the game.
“She’s actually the one who kept me going. There was a point where I had three kids in private school, a house payment, car payments, and things were getting tough,” said Loew. “When I tell you we poured money into a gym, the cost of the equipment, the rent, utilities, taking kids on trips to tournaments, I thought, ‘I have a family; my kids are getting ready to go to college; I’ve got to stop taking money away for this’, but my wife said, ‘No, we’ve come way too far. This is your dream; we’ll be OK,’ and we were. I’m a lucky man.”
He speaks with regret that he must now drive his young fighters 65 miles to Cleveland for the closest Golden Gloves tournament. After a couple hours in the gym with Loew, I got the feeling if he had to choose between training ten more world champions or having the Golden Gloves back in Youngstown, he’d choose the Gloves any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
He hasn’t changed much since his days as a standout running back at Cardinal Mooney high school. Loew’s style today is the same as it was back then, straightforward. “I didn’t know how to go sideways. I have that aggressive style, and it’s headfirst.”
That’s earned Loew somewhat of a reputation, but he calls it like he sees it. And Loew is quick to add, “Believe me, when I say things, I’m not cutting guys down because I respect every guy we fight; I respect every fighter.” Loew adds, “I respect most trainers. I’m not going to say I respect them all because some are a bunch of a**holes, but some them think I’m an a**hole, and that’s OK.” Then he laughs, “My wife’s called me that a hundred times, a thousand times, you learn to roll with it.”
In Youngstown, you do learn to roll with the punches and the city has taken its fair share. It’s a place where you’re judged by your heart and soul and how you help others, not by the title your job might carry, and by that standard, Jack Loew is doing pretty damn good.