More than a fighting chance
June 25, 2008 · Updated 7:46 PM
During the past year, Kevin Keefe has learned that being an athletic success can be a real fight.
Last week, the 2000 Langley Middle School graduate won a national boxing championship in Peshawbestown, Michigan.
Fighting for the Spokane Eagles Boxing Club, Keefe, a 16-year-old Nez Perce tribal member, won the 2003 Ringside National Native American Boxing Championship in the 125-pound senior novice division.
Keefe, who now lives in Spokane and began fighting this year, took the championship in a three-round decision over Maracco Apachito of Magdalena New Mexico and the Navajo Nation last week. Keefe was among nearly 100 boxers from throughout the United States and Canada who gathered on the Grand Traverse Reservation on the shores of Lake Michigan for the three-day tournament.
Keefe also defeated Dustin Williams of Shiprock, N.M., and the Navajo Nation, the winner of the 132-pound novice division championship. By defeating Williams, Keefe became the only boxer in the tournament to step up in weight to beat another champion.
Speaking from his home Thursday shortly after taking his last high school finals of the year, Keefe said he took up boxing on a lark, getting into the ring after being cut from his high school basketball team two years in a row.
"I just liked watching boxing and wanted to box," he said.
Training with Eagles coach Dan Vassar, Keefe is now undefeated in seven appearances in the ring. Favoring his straight right and concentrating on speed, the young boxer has already mastered the skills needed to score and win in amateur boxing.
"Kevin was clearly the outstanding novice boxer in the tournament," said Vassar. "He really impressed the judges and spectators with his technique, and his ability to finish strong in the third round of both bouts."
Much of that technique he developed out of necessity. After getting rocked by some hard hits he took in his first fight, Keefe said he's learned to dish out more punishment than he absorbs.
Keefe will not fight again until September, when the next boxing season begins. In the fall, he moves up to the 17-18-year-old division, in which he will fight about twice a month. He said he hopes to make it to the Junior Olympics next season.
Keefe attended Langley Middle School just for his eighth-grade year. However, he did not get his start in boxing in the school's boxing fitness class, an elective offered to eighth graders.
His family has had roots in South Whidbey since the early 1950s at Maxwelton Beach. His grandmother, Anne Keefe, lives in Clinton, as does his aunt, Joanne Keefe Moote, and her family.
Record editor Matt Johnson contributed to this story.