The Final Round

Joe Pommier has a big heart.  For 18 years as head trainer at Primo Boxing Club in Santa Barbara, Pommier has maintained the “Say Yes to Kids” program, where anyone under the age of 18 can come in and train, for free.  After years of operating on a shoe-string budget, Pommier will have to close Primo’s doors for the last time in December of 2013.

Primo Boxing Club has been threatened with closure before, but somehow the Pommiers managed to keep the lights on.  But seven years ago Pommier’s wife, Jean, was diagnosed with cancer. When she took a year off to undergo chemotherapy, she stopped doing the books for the gym and Primo fell behind on taxes and never quite recovered.

Even though the City of Santa Barbara has been very lenient with the rent, an old fire station located on East Haley Street, the IRS payment plan kept snowballing, contributing to   Primo’s board of directors decision to close the gym for good.

After all these years, it is nearly impossible to count how many people’s lives Pommier has affected.  One such youth is Jesus Campos, a 17-year-old high school student.  “I’ve been able to take out the anger that I have inside, and not take it out on the people around me,” Jesus said.  “It’s made me happier than I’ve ever been, it’s great.  I’ve been able to change my life. Here, I can take out my anger on a bag, and I wouldn’t wanna hurt my brothers or anything like that.”

When Primo closes down, Jesus plans on getting a job at a local fast food restaurant to pay for the fees at another martial arts gym in the area.  Eventually, he plans on getting into professional boxing.
Not all young boxers can, or will, get jobs to be able to afford a gym membership.  Ulises Orozco, 16, believes this place to be a true haven for many of these teens, who don’t have many options of activities to do after school.

“If I wasn’t here, I think I’d be home, just doing nothing,” Orozcosaid.  “When you’re bored and you got nothing to do, you get ideas.  And then you do stuff, you know?  You can get in trouble sometimes.”
Another boxing program is set to take over the premises that Primo Boxing Club currently occupies.  One of Pommier’s main concerns about the new program is that kids will need to maintain a certain G.P.A. in school in order to attend the boxing classes.

“I feel that some of the kids that need this the most, this outlet, a place to train, are the bad students,” Pommier said.  “So many kids I’ve had in here that were terrible students, but once they started training, pretty soon their grades went up.”

Although he has dedicated nearly two decades of his life to Primo and the kids, Pommier doesn’t seem too fazed about the uncertainty of his future.

“This gym has been a blessing for years, but it’s time to move on, time to do something new in our lives,” he said. “But boxing, and the kids, will always be a part of our lives. I’m kinda excited.  I’m sad that we’re leaving this place that we’ve been [for] 18 years, but y’know, everybody moves on – time to move on.  So I’m excited about our adventures. Where we’re gonna end up? Bigger and better things, I believe. We’ll have to see how it goes.”