Barnum boxing club aims to develop good kids, good boxers“I’m going to knock the girl out.” Confidence among boxers is legendary. Then there’s the confidence of 8-year-old Mandi Soderholm of Mahtowa. She’s one of seven students of Cloquet’s Phil Angell, who has co-founded the C&C Northland Boxing Club and Fitness Center in Barnum. Soderholm and a host of other new fighters will take to the ring for the first time on July 23 at the Carlton County Fairgrounds.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
“I’m going to knock the girl out.”
Confidence among boxers is legendary. Then there’s the confidence of 8-year-old Mandi Soderholm of Mahtowa.
She’s one of seven students of Cloquet’s Phil Angell, who has co-founded the C&C Northland Boxing Club and Fitness Center in Barnum. Soderholm and a host of other new fighters will take to the ring for the first time on July 23 at the Carlton County Fairgrounds.
While a knockout is highly unlikely – everyone fighting will do so in full headgear under amateur rules – Soderholm is one of several young fighters who can’t wait to try out the squared circle for the first time.
“I wanted to do something different,” Soderholm said. “I do team sports, so I wanted to do something by myself.”
Her father, Tom, had immediate second thoughts. In fact, they almost beat his first thoughts.
“I was kind of against it at first,” he said with a laugh. “I was hoping she’d forget about the idea. But she didn’t.”
So now, the younger Soderholm is preparing to fight. That’s where Angell comes in.
Phil Angell went to high school in Virginia, where he was a wrestler.
He was also a boxer in his spare time, and when he reached the finals of a local tough man event after finishing school, he devoted more time to coaching the sport.
While a younger man, he often sparred with longtime friend Chad Beaulieu of Barnum. When Angell learned that Beaulieu’s son Cross was getting into Silver Gloves boxing and was near the same age as Phil’s son Drew, an idea was born.
“We just knew we had to do something,” Angell said. “It seemed pretty obvious.”
So, the two set up a ring in Beaulieu’s fitness center. The club now has seven fighters training and, looking across the street from the training area, the next step seemed equally obvious.
“We wanted to hold a night at the fairgrounds,” Angell said, “[but] the building we needed is occupied during the county fair,” he explained. So, the fighters have been training toward their July 23 event.
As the administrator, Angell has a big job. He’s also one of the trainers for the young group of fighters, meaning his workouts are physical as well as mental.
You can see him in the ring, working on hand speed drills with each of his charges, some of whom hit harder than others.
Then you hear him talk about the July card, and see his commitment to the sport.
“We’re not making money on this,” he said. “We want to give kids the chance to box, and help them with the discipline that will help them later on in life.”
Jason Youngberg took up boxing when he was in the Navy.
“Our division had a few sets of gloves,” he said. “I first messed around with it then.”
Now 33 and living in Mahtowa, Youngberg is a little more serious about the sport. He’s eagerly awaiting his debut on July 23.
“It’s something I always wanted to do,” he said. “My uncle got me into boxing, but at my age boxing should be for fun. Twenty years ago, my philosophy would have been a lot different.”
It may be a bit hard to view the idea of being hit in the face as “fun,” but Youngberg plans to do most of the hitting himself.
“I’ll be in shape,” he promised. “Boxing is great exercise. I lost nine pounds the first week I trained.”
It’s no wonder. Angell works him hard, doing a “mitts” drill which moves Youngberg around the ring. Angell calls combinations of punches and Youngberg delivers them.
From time to time, even the pads on his hands don’t help Angell, who occasionally grunts in pain as his student’s punches land hard.
The Texas native can throw leather, and is looking forward to the chance to prove it.
“It’s going to be a lot different from sparring, that’s for sure,” he says with a ready smile. “I’m going to go full-bore for three rounds and see how it goes.”
This brings us back to young Mandi Soderholm.
A hockey and soccer player at other times of the year, the young lady has no doubts she can succeed in the ring.
“I’m gonna knock the girl out,” she repeated. “Boxing is fun.”
Soderholm has surprisingly quick hands and feet for someone of her age.
Her father said it best: “I didn’t like the idea at first but then she worked out. She’s kind of a natural.”
Watching her work with Angell, it’s easy to see why. She understands how to move in the ring and is aggressive in response to her coach’s direction.
When the drill is over, though, you see a soon-to-be fourth-grader at Barnum Elementary School, with a happy smile and a “Fight Like A Girl” T-shirt.
She also had a ready answer for her father’s initial opposition.
“He said it was my idea and I could try it if I liked it,” she said. “Well, I liked it.”
Soderholm describes running work as the hardest part of training. Some fighters will do a mile or more of interval sprints on training nights, which last for two hours three days per week.
The Beaulieu family is heavily involved with boxing.
Chad Beaulieu owns the building in which the fighters train and helps run the boxing club. His son Cross is a Silver Gloves boxer.
And then there’s 10-year-old Colby, who appears to be the next generation of Beaulieu fighters.
Wearing a “Tough Man” T-shirt, the freckle-faced boy has no doubt about his future.
“I’m gonna own this building by the time I’m 16,” he said. “My dad said so.”
Colby loves to spar, but a medical condition is likely to stop him from fighting in earnest. However, the younger Beaulieu draws inspiration from a plaque placed on the far wall of the ring.
“This place is dedicated to my grandfather (Harry Olsen),” Colby said. “He loved boxing and I do too.”
Angell seems to have a soft spot for Colby.
“He likes to get in there,” Angell said. “He’s done some sparring but he really loves boxing.”
The youth of some of the club fighters might alarm
onlookers, but family support in the sport is key. The Barnum fighters have it.
So how does a parent react to the sight of his or her school-age child entering a boxing ring?
“I’m nervous,” Debbie Soderholm said, in reference to her daughter, “but she’s good. She’s very positive.”
The Soderholm family made Mandi’s boxing a family
“I wouldn’t want to deter any kid from doing something they wanted to do if it was safe,” Tom Soderholm said. “She’s determined to try it and the thing I like about it is that it does help in self-defense. The training is worth every minute for that alone.”
“She has a very self-confident mindset,” she said of her daughter. “She has no trouble keeping up with the boys and boxing was something she really wanted to do.”
From the point of view of an older fighter, Youngberg favors youth involvement in the sport.
“I’d encourage it,” he said. “It’s great exercise and it does help teach discipline. I’m excited to be here and kids should be too.”
Angell knows there are more than a few stories about how troubled youth have turned their lives around through boxing. Although no one in his stable currently fits that definition, he says there’s definite purpose to what he’s doing.
“Some people are just here to work out,” he said. “That’s fine. But we want kids to be good kids. We’re not teaching this to beat people up. We wear our club shirts and we have pride. The pride comes from deep down.
“It’s all about self-confidence,” Angell added. “Boxing gives it to you.”