A Knock-Out Opportunity for Akron Youth

(Left) Tony Tulley is a senior technician specialist, working out of our North Street facility in Akron. (Right) Tony prepares a young member for an upcoming boxing competition. (Note: All photos were taken before COVID-19 social distancing measures.)

August 31, 2020

Discipline, structure, camaraderie, respect – and a round of fun. This is what local youth will find at the Akron Boxing Academy – all under the tutelage of a dedicated coach, Tony Tulley.

Tony, a senior technician specialist and 13-year FirstEnergy employee, saw a need in the community to help struggling youth who were also missing a male figure in their lives.

“I can relate to these kids. I was raised in a single-parent home and I know how easy it is to get in trouble and take to the streets if there’s no structure in your life. I was lucky,” he said.

Tony found his structure by joining the military after high school. Plus, he’s always been athletic, with a love for baseball and boxing.

“Boxing has been a lifelong passion. It was very popular in the ’80s, and I used to hang out with a few golden glove boxers. I’ve always followed the sport and admired the dedication and discipline that’s needed to properly train for it,” he said.

As a result, Tony felt that those positive aspects of boxing could help at-risk youth in the Akron area – especially after the neighborhood gym closed leaving the kids with no outlet for sports and other activities.

“It was not my plan to start a new gym, but it all fell into place,” he said. “I felt that opening a gym would provide the environment these kids needed to stay out of trouble and build self-esteem and skills.”

Using his own money, Tony established the Akron Boxing Academy – providing a healthy environment for youngsters to learn the art of boxing and good sportsmanship. Tony and community volunteers serve as coaches to 25 kids each day. He personally funded the gym for five years until he acquired 501(c)3 nonprofit certification in 2019.

Membership to the academy is free. A parent or legal guardian must sign a waiver form allowing the child to participate and be registered with the USA Boxing Academy. Ages range from 7 years old and up.

Creating Champions

Many good things have come from the boxing academy. In 2017, Tony and academy volunteer coach James Denson, were inducted into the Summit County Hall of Fame Boxing Association. The association recognizes the rich history of boxing in Akron and surrounding Summit County, as well as the many amateur and professional boxers hailing from the area.

However, the biggest news happened late last year when one of the academy students – 16-year-old Tyshawn Denson – earned a spot on the USA Boxing Youth’s High Performance Team by taking first place at the organization’s national championship.

Tyshawn, who has trained at the academy under his dad, James, and Tony, would have been one of only 13 Team USA boxers participating in an international meet in Botevgrad, Bulgaria. However, the competition was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Once Tyshawn’s story got out, gym membership rapidly increased,” Tony said. “Then we had to close due to the pandemic. After reopening, all of our members returned. We’re taking all measures and precautions to ensure the safety of members and volunteers.”

Tony (l.) with academy members, l.-r.: James Denson, Tyshawn Denson, Reuben Woodruff and Daben Figueroa, celebrating Tyshawn’s victory.

When asked about the future, Tony is not nearly ready to throw in the towel.

“My long-term goal is to ensure that the academy keeps going strong long after I’m gone so that it’s open for any kid who needs it.”

Tony, (back row, second from l.) and his coaching partner, James Denson (crouching in front), with a group of boxing academy kids after Tony and James were inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 2017.