KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Who knew turning a pool hall into a boxing gym would create an impact for decades in Knoxville?
In 1964, Jerry "Ace" Miller reportedly borrowed $500 to turn a Central Street pool hall into a place to train pugilists. When he took over the Golden Gloves Gym in Chilhowee Park in 1971, he would lay the foundation for a legacy spanning generations.
"You can't find a better place in town. This is the free arena. They get excellent training. It's a place to grow. Every individual that comes in here gets a chance," said Judge Hill, an amateur boxing coach at Golden Gloves. "I don't care if you're the weakest or the strongest. In fact, the weak ones all become the strongest."
The gym was officially renamed "Ace" Miller Golden Gloves Arena in 2011 to honor his contributions to the community through the free program.
"He always would cook for kids. He just gave kids a landing space and a place to be, and once you were in that family, you stayed in it forever," said William Kouns, a former amateur boxer. "I still have a huge number of friends from my days in the Golden Gloves, and you just form a bond in that that you don't lose."
While Golden Gloves primarily caters to kids and teens, it has hosted its share of Olympians and world champions over the years. It was the place Ace trained Knoxville's own World Heavyweight Champion Big John Tate.
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Other notable names like Mike Tyson, Roy Jones, Evander Holyfield, Bernard Taylor and Frankie Randall also stepped into the ring at Golden Gloves.
Tracy Miller-Davis, Ace's daughter who took over as the director of boxing at Golden Gloves after her father's death in 2012, said she points to these fighters as inspiration for the kids in the program.
"A lot of the kids we get in this program are from East Knoxville, they don't have anybody else. They don't have anything else. I want them to know that if you work hard enough and you apply yourself you too have a chance to do something in your life," Tracy said. "So if we can keep that going and we could keep the door open, then we're constantly building hope in other kids."
Along with inspiration, those in the program also find community.
"Sometimes you come in here with kinda a big head and stuff, expecting it to be like easy and stuff, but it's not. So it kind of humbles you, but it also gives like this kind of honor," said Westley Davis, a sophomore and an amateur boxer. "Everyone here is like if you asked them questions, they will help you out. It's like a very community type of place, kinda like another type of family like a little bit cuz I kind of grew up inside of the gym and they mean a lot to me."
Judge said it's a program for all people at any experience level and grows skills and self-confidence for other sports as well.
"There's a place for everyone in this program, whether you a boxer, you're a trainer. You know, you can move over to the other side of it. You can be a referee, you know, you can judge fights, you know, you can work concession, you can be a gloveman, but there's a place for you," Judge said.
Training sessions are held Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the corner of 401 Lakeside Street and Ace Miller Way.
Tracy said she provides all the equipment needed including hand wraps, mouthpieces and gloves. She also provides snacks and drinks and covers any required expenses to ensure everyone has a chance.
"To step in that ring, it takes a lot of guts to do that even for three minutes. It's a lot of heart and a lot of soul to do that, and you may not have ever been able to accomplish any other sport but you can do that," Tracy said.
For more information on the program, visit the Golden Gloves Facebook group or the City of Knoxville website. To learn more about the Ace Miller Memorial Boxing Tournament and its charitable contributions, visit the event website.
If you would like to help Golden Gloves Arena, you can mail donations to the Ace Miller Golden Gloves Gym at 6115 Strawberry Plains Pike, Knoxville, Tennessee 37914.