Even at 47, Hearns calls Kronk home

Kids used to find themselves in boxing gyms. But today, gyms aren't the spots city planners tout as places for wayward youth to navigate life.

To those outside of boxing, that notion is as antiquated as two men putting on gloves and fighting for our entertainment.

Like boxing, the Kronk Recreation Center in Detroit had its heyday in the past, in the '70s and '80s in the case of the famed boxing gym. But lately its arc has mimicked that of its poster child, Thomas "the Motor City Cobra" Hearns: Both are clinging to a dream in light of age, erosion and harsh realities.

This much we know: Detroit is set on closing the Kronk unless dollars (and lots of them) can be raised. Its favorite son, Hearns, faces nine months of probation stemming from an altercation with his 13-year-old son. The futures of both the man and the gym are uncertain.

Hearns, 47, still goes to the Kronk each day to train, largely because it is what he's always done. Like a retired executive who still goes to the office, retired fighters can't resist the sounds, smells and combat of the ring. Their stories almost always end sadly.

"You can never tell a boxer when it's time to retire, and it was Tommy's confidence that made him great," said former lightweight champion Hilmer Kenty. Kenty was a Kronk teammate of Hearns' and is now the man in charge of the Emmanuel Steward Foundation, raising funds to save the Kronk.

"Gyms are the places where trainers and fighters learn their art, and you can't take that away from young people," said former heavyweight champion Pinklon Thomas, who was raised in Pontiac, Mich., and trained periodically at the Kronk. Thomas, now working as a substance abuse counselor in Orlando, Fla., uses boxing as a way to keep kids clean.

Hearns uses the sport as his reason to get out of bed each day. His latest comeback, at light heavyweight, resumes Saturday at the Palace of Auburn Hills, the night before Super Bowl XL. Hearns will face Shannon Landberg, a rugged journeyman, in a match scheduled for 10 rounds. He doesn't need the money, so why do it?

"Why not do it?" he said. "I sit at home every day and basically do nothing. My body says 'train.' I get up every morning and think about training. When God wants to take that ability away, he'll take it away."

"Tommy has boxed since age 10," said Kenty. "It's all he knows."

"The Kronk was a place that I remember being the savior of a lot of kids and senior citizens," said Hearns of the facility, which also offers basketball, baseball and swimming for inner-city youth as well as programming for senior citizens. "It was a place to interact with people … to talk, laugh and have fun."

Hearns is now a part of the effort to save the gym that, for more than 20 years, has been his office, a social network and a second home.

"I have no idea where I would be without the Kronk program," said Kenty, in a sentiment echoed by Thomas and Hearns. They are men who found their potential, and world titles, in a cramped, inner-city boxing gym.

"The Kronk is everything to me," said Hearns. "It's what I stand for."

Ted Kluck is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com and his first book, "Facing Tyson," will be released in Fall 2006 by the Lyons Press.

Learn more about the Kronk at www.kronkgym.com