Boxing day

TOP: eighth grader Rhonda Johnson takes her turn at the speed bag. BELOW: Bobbo Sensano takes on a moving body bag during last week
TOP: eighth grader Rhonda Johnson takes her turn at the speed bag. BELOW: Bobbo Sensano takes on a moving body bag during last week's boxing competition at Langley Middle School. The point of the drill was to land as many scoring power punches as possible.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

Britta Madison still has a pair of boxing gloves hanging around somewhere in her bedroom.

One of a number of "champions" in a boxing and weight-training class at Langley Middle School last year, the high school freshman has not forgotten the fighting lessons she learned. Every once in a while, she thinks back to the hours she spent concentrating on moving around an imaginary ring, keeping her elbows in and extending her jab. And then, every once in a while, she feels the urge to practice those skills. Good thing she kept her gloves.

"When I'm bored, I box in the mirror," she said.

Madison is one of scores of students who have taken the eighth-grade boxing fitness class at the middle school. Taught by teacher and former boxer Erik Jokinen, the quarter-long course is the most popular hour of gym class at the school. This year, the class has been attracting up to four full sections of students per quarter.

In the class, students learn basic boxing skills two days a week, then lift weights on another two class days. The workout, Jokinen says, is one of the hardest many of his students have ever experienced. At 18 stations on a boxing day, the kids jump rope, punch a speed bag, hit and duck out of the way against a dodge bag, work specific punches on uppercut and heavy bags, and go one-on-one against Jokinen in the ring to work all their skills against hand pads.

"After five rounds, they're wiped," Jokinen said.

Boxing fitness is a non-contact class, so students never throw a punch at an opponent. Instead, students learn pure skills while building muscle and cardiovascular fitness.

Last week, second quarter students laced up their gloves for the course's final exam -- a five-station or "round" skills and fitness challenge. For this test, the eighth graders were expected to do five activities -- jump rope, speed bag, dodge bag, moving body bag and hand pads -- in rapid succession with no breaks. In the school's auxiliary gymnasium, known to students as "The Cooler," class members worked through the stations to music from various "Rocky" soundtracks and before the watchful eyes of teachers, former boxing class students and community members who acted as scoring judges.

At the end of the day, the student with the most scoring punches at the hitting stations and the best form on the jump rope and speed bag would be named champion.

Recently, girls in the boxing class have been well represented in the ranks of the champions. Jokinen said about one-third of the students in the boxing class are girls. Katherine East, a South Whidbey High School freshman who earned a championship last year, said winning not only inspired her, but convinced a number of other girls to take the class.

"I did it, I won and I convinced other people to try," she said.

That is exactly what Jokinen wants. He said his class is the perfect athletic outlet for kids who may not be attracted to team sports, or those who have never found an athletic interest on their own.

"I've had a lot of skateboarders in the class," he said.

Boxing, Jokinen said, is an inexpensive sport and teaches skills that can be used both in the ring -- if a student decides to go that route -- or in non-contact boxing aerobic classes.

For some students, the boxing class is a place to learn skills they hope they never need to use.

"I have learned to take a punch with a medicine ball," said student Rhonda Johnson, who, like her classmates, took turns at tightening up her stomach muscles and catching the heavy ball in the midriff.

One of the most aggressive students on test day was Bobbo Sensano, a wrestler at the school who also seemed to know how to use his hands in a fight. But even as energetic as he was, by the time he finished the last competitive station -- his round of boxing against a weaving and dodging Jokinen with the hand pads -- Sensano slumped to rest against one of the cinder block walls in The Cooler.

From now on, he said, watching boxing on television will be a completely different experience.

"Now when I watch boxing I can recognize jabs and combos," he said.

Jokinen has been teaching the boxing fitness class for five years. All the equipment his class uses was purchased with grant funds and donations. Later this year, Jokinen will give a presentation about the class at a state physical education conference. He said he hopes the idea will catch on elsewhere.

By the end of the year, Jokinen expects approximately two-thirds of the eighth-grade class will have taken boxing fitness. Champions will be named in each section of the class every quarter.

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