Preparing future generations

The message is simple, direct and clear. Follow it and good things are likely to happen. In a boxing ring, in a classroom, in whatever you do. Glen Hamada, Kent’s longtime patriarch of youth boxing, knows as much. It’s the same lessons he learned as a kid growing up in an underprivileged neighborhood. “I tell kids discipline, commitment and execution,” said Hamada, 73, trainer, mentor and co-founder of the Kent East Hill Boxing Club. 

“Be prepared. If you’re not prepared and you get into the ring and you’re not in shape, some little kid will beat you up or you might get hurt, and I don’t want to see anybody get hurt. “I tell them, ‘What you put into it is what you get out of it.’ “ It’s the same approach Hamada’s wife, Leslie, brings to her work each day. While Glen teaches youth of all walks the not-so-subtle “sweet science,” Leslie is the club’s matriarch who manages the nonprofit organization. 

She makes all things go from behind the scenes. “Glen and I share the deep respect, the value and consistency in saying what we are going to do, meaning what we are going to do, and following through,” Leslie said. “A lot of times kids today are involved with quick results. They want instant results. They need older people to remind them that it takes awhile … and that hard work doesn’t come easy.” 

Leslie’s work ethic, persistence and patience extend beyond ringside, exemplified by her contributions to her church, PTA, civic groups and KentHOPE, whose mission is to feed and clothe the homeless. For their tireless efforts and community service, the Kent Reporter recognizes the Hamadas as its 2016 Persons of the Year. “Very good people,” said Roger McCane, a volunteer coach for the boxing club and a former champion amateur and pro boxer. 

“They love having the kids do the right things … go to school, study, work hard. … They care about other people. They want kids, they want others to be great.” To help get kids off the street and involved into something constructive, the Hamadas approached city of Kent and Kent School District leaders to establish a youth boxing program about five years ago. Through small grants and generous donations, the club slowly took shape. 

Today, it is well insured and USA Boxing certified. Leslie saw to that. As a mentor of high-risk youth in public schools for more than 40 years, she was instrumental in making the club possible. Her husband is working to ensure its continuity. “It’s much more than a boxing club with our desire,” said Leslie, 69. The club has become an accessible safe haven, a healthy outlet for kids needing discipline, direction and control. 

The Hamadas – who have raised three children of their own – estimate they have worked with hundreds of kids over the years. They come in all ages, sizes, shapes and backgrounds. Some stay, others go. The gym, tucked inside the back of the Kent Phoenix Academy on the East Hill, serves as an opportunity for those who cannot afford to play other organized sports. “For a lot of the kids we deal with, their parents are so busy surviving and learning the language,” Leslie explained. 

“The community in some capacity does have to come in and embrace those kids a little bit more and give them maybe some of things that their parents are busy trying to provide. “Community members need to step up and have them become their kids,” she said. “It makes a difference.” The club is an extension of the Hamada family. It’s a group with an international flavor, a reflection of the East Hill’s wide and colorful ethnicity. 

Teens on this year’s club come from Russia, the Ukraine, Mexico, Turkey and other countries. As teammates they have learned to break down cultural and language barriers. They have learned to get along. “It’s a United Nations,” Glen said. “I have fun with them.” For those teens willing to make the effort, there is a payoff. Many go on to finish high school, and others take the next step – college. One such boxer is Mustafa Ali, a 140-pounder who struggled but found his way after his family escaped the turmoil of Iraq several years ago and immigrated to Kent. 

Ali took an immediate liking to boxing and Glen’s house rules. A former soccer player, Ali excelled in the ring, winning a majority of his 16 bouts. He also won in the classroom, graduating last spring from Kent-Meridian High School. With scholarship support – including some financial help from the boxing club – Ali plans to enroll at Auburn’s Green River College and study criminal justice. Ali has the Hamadas to thank for his bright future. 

“They’re great people. They’ve been like a family to me,” he said. “They helped me with everything. They taught me to be on time, to work hard and that the hard will pay off.” Leslie’s experience in sales, communications and writing have served her well in the community. Such skills have helped her make an impact in her work for social justice. Through community service, she realized it doesn’t hurt to reach out and ask for help sometimes. 

While receiving a Catholic Community Services award several years ago, she met up with Tom Campion, founder of Lynnwood-based Zumiez Inc., an American specialty clothing store that has more than 650 stores, including one at the Kent Station shopping center. Reluctant at first, she approached Campion and asked, ‘Could you possibly give me 20 jackets for our homeless?’ ” Leslie didn’t hear back from Campion until later when a fully stocked semi truck backed up in her driveway to deliver coats, blankets and other clothing. Zumiez continues to donate to the cause today. 

Volunteers come to help clear out Hamadas’ garage and distribute clothing to those in need. That devotion continues today for Leslie, who works to help soothe the plight of others. “Glen and I, we worked very hard to get where we are today,” Leslie said. “It wasn’t given to either one of us.” Born in an internment camp in Arizona, Glen lived in other parts of the country, settling with his family in southside Watsonville, Calif. He didn’t have much as a kid, only a love for games. One particular coach inspired him. 

Tommy Rowan came to the neighborhood one day, recruiting kids to play for his Little League team. Glen was one of them. Too small to play professionally, Rowan worked as a clerk and with kids in his spare time. On the baseball diamond, he asked and got the most out of his players. Glen never forgot that. “Tommy always taught discipline, commitment and execution,” Glen said. “He was a great human being.” Glen asked and got the most out of himself. 

A former Marine, Glen boxed briefly before embarking on a long and successful career as a judge, supervisor and trainer in the sport. He estimates he has judged about 90 world title fights, watching some of the greatest boxers at rings scattered around the world. He continues to travel and judge fights when called upon. 

Glen is a respected and revered part of the international boxing family, just as he is at home as a leader and mentor for his kids. After a long career in sales and management, Glen doesn’t know how much longer he will continue with the club. “I hope eventually, because of my age, that a younger guy eventually comes and takes this over,” he said. “It’s a good program, and these are good kids.” 

by Mark Klaas

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