Boxing hits its stride in CloquetWhile growing up, Steve Inyan Mata knew he wanted to be a teacher. So when the time came to teach his favorite sport, he went all-out. The Cloquet native has turned his own garage into a boxing gym. The gym is home for the Kokusai Boxing Academy, a boxing program that has quickly grown during its first year in existence.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
CLOQUET – While growing up, Steve Inyan Mata knew he wanted to be a teacher. So when the time came to teach his favorite sport, he went all-out.
The Cloquet native has turned his own garage into a boxing gym.
The gym is home for the Kokusai Boxing Academy, a boxing program that has quickly grown during its first year in existence.
“The kids really gravitate to boxing,” said Inyan Mata. “So one day I just decided to ‘bring it,’ so that’s what I did.”
Inyan Mata, a 41-year-old Indian Education teacher with the Cloquet Area Alternative Education Programs, started teaching boxing during an after-school program for CAAEP students.
“I was a little surprised [at] how many kids first showed up,” said Inyan Mata. “But I knew once I got them there, they would stay. I had parents coming up to me all the time saying what a neat thing I have going here, so I stuck with it and here we are.”
With more and more student interest, Inyan Mata decided it was time to move venues – and his small garage became the new gym.
Countless hours of work and labor led Inyan Mata to construct a boxing gym equipped with speed bags, a heavy bag and even a few Muhammad Ali posters. The 12-by-18 foot elevated wood floor gives a ring-like bounce.
“It gets pretty warm in here with 10 bodies,” laughed Inyan Mata. “Since we opened it, we added a bag here and there and now it’s really starting to come around the corner.”
Inyan Mata got his love for boxing after beginning mixed-martial arts training at age 15 in Orlando. His coach was a boxer, so Inyan Mata began to compete in kick boxing matches with success.
That boxing desire has led Inyan Mata to create the only organized boxing program in town, which now has nine boxers enrolled. Three are registered with USA Boxing including Cloquet natives Gage Follett, 18, Dylan Houle, 18, and Dakota Goad, 15.
Both Follett and Houle have been in the Academy for more than six months, while Goad has been listed in Kokusai for over a year. Of their eight total fights, Houle and Goad have one victory each.
“We’re like a family, this place is a home away from home,” said Goad. “Boxing is my favorite sport, and Steve has been there every step of the way for me.”
Inyan Mata knows it will take time to improve, but to him, it’s not about wins and losses. It’s about learning how to fight the right way.
Practices are five days a week, with open gym earlier in the evening followed by team workouts.
“You don’t see something like this every day, this place is great and Steve is a great teacher,” said Houle. “This place has really started a new life for me. Kokusai is something special. It’s all I got and all I want to do.”
The Academy consists of fighters ages of 5-20. Follett, Houle and Goad all travel by team van and have boxed in Bad River, Wis., as well as at Grandma’s Sports Garden in Duluth and the Lost Isle in Carlton.
“I just like fighting,” said Follett. “And there’s nothing better than coming here. Steve has taught me a lot just here in his own house. I love coming here, it’s like our place. It’s just us, no rivalries.”
And through it all, Inyan Mata has kept the focus on the kids.
“This isn’t about me, it’s about them,” he said. “These kids have a huge passion for boxing. And that means a lot not just to me, but to them.”
Follett, Houle and Goad will all be back in action at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 18, when they hit ring at Grandma’s Sports Garden.
“I don’t have a cape on,” said Inyan Mata. “But I’m giving these kids a chance to do something to keep them off the streets. I know if something like this was around when I was their age, I would do it in a heartbeat. They’re enjoying it a lot and hopefully we can continue to grow.”
The Academy is looking to expand and find sponsorships. Anyone interested in boxing or helping out is encouraged to call Steve Inyan Mata at 218-879-3695 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.