Sam Jones, left, demonstrates some boxing stances and combinations with Rob Robinson at Sam's Gym in Glouster, Ohio, on Wednesday, June 10, 2020.
Sam Jones, left, demonstrates some boxing stances and combinations with Rob Robinson at Sam’s Gym in Glouster, Ohio, on Wednesday, June 10, 2020. (WOUB photo/Michelle Rotuno-Johnson)

Sam’s Gym Owner Looks Forward To Welcoming Glouster Kids Back To Ring

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GLOUSTER, Ohio (WOUB) — Sam Jones has been all around the world as a boxing professional and coach, but his biggest focus for many years has been educating and encouraging the kids in Glouster.

A stern-looking training dummy greets visitors at Sam's Gym. Behind the dummy, a mass of photos and banners are visible.
A stern-looking training dummy greets visitors at Sam’s Gym. (WOUB photo/Michelle Rotuno-Johnson)

Last Monday, he opened the front door at Sam’s Gym again for adults to train. Like every gym in Ohio, Sam’s closed in mid-March under orders from the state to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The gym contains a boxing ring, punching bags, weights, and a mass of photographs and advertisements detailing Jones’ history as a coach and the history of the town itself. Old pictures on the wall of Glouster’s High Street show how busy the town was as miners and their families shopped, ate, and drank.

Sam’s opened in 1936 as the Glouster Boxing Club, making it the oldest boxing gym in the country. Jones’ father and grandfather opened the gym with Frank Buhla to give coal miners a place to exercise and socialize after a long day. Town baseball teams were also popular at this time.

“They had baseball, and then they had boxing, and they had wrestling,” he explained. “Every little village had a baseball team. …Everybody wanted to play. That’s something now, there’s no ball teams other than for kids to play at school.”

Jones took over operation in 1960, the year after he graduated high school. He has been training amateur and professional boxers ever since.

Some of his protégés have gone up against names even a boxing novice would know. Buster Douglas, a Columbus native, defeated heavyweight champion Mike Tyson in Japan in 1990. Tyson had been undefeated before Douglas knocked him out in the 10th round.

Photos of some of the professionals Sam Jones has trained through a long career.
Photos of some of the professionals Sam Jones has trained through a long career. (Michelle Rotuno-Johnson)

Jones was heavyweight Bando kickboxing champion of the world from 1974-1978, and boxed in Madison Square Garden in 1975. He has played other sports, but said boxing has taught him the most about life.

“When that bell rings, you have three minutes out there,” he said. “And maybe you’re cruising along, doing okay, and boom, then you’re down. So what it taught me is to get up. When you’re knocked down, get back up, your lungs are burning, you’re tired, and just keep right on. Never give up.”

This mentality, of tenacity in the ring and in life, is something Jones emphasizes to the local children who come to his gym.

Before the pandemic, he opened his doors to boys and girls in Glouster every week, teaching them about boxing, kickboxing, self-defense, and martial arts. But more important, he says, is teaching them to be champions in life.

Jones doesn’t charge a membership fee, and accepts donations instead of asking for money for those who walk in the door. He has not yet re-opened for the children in his community, acknowledging it will be difficult to keep the younger trainees a certain distance apart. He said he hopes to welcome the younger boxers back in the next few weeks.

“I’d like to open back up, I know these kids are suffering here,” Jones said. “Nowhere to go, nothing to do here. But we can’t overlook the fact that this virus is so serious. We’ll just have to bite down and tough that one out.”

Rob Robinson joined the coaching staff at Sam’s Gym after training with Jones as a teenager. His sons have trained here, too — one, James became state champion and went to the national tournament in Maryland.

A sign for Sam's Gym on High Street in Glouster, Ohio.
A sign for Sam’s Gym on High Street in Glouster, Ohio. (Michelle Rotuno-Johnson)

“I’ve been all over the countryside with (Jones),” Robinson said. “He’s a big pillar for the community. He really does a lot.”

Jones’s influence extends beyond the boxing ring. He has also raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Trimble Local Schools through Boxing for Books, a fundraiser he has put on since 1975.

“Each year I’ll get these local kids that are good boxers, and they’ll get on the card,” he said. “(And) I’ll get two or maybe three celebrity matches. I might get a judge, one of the judges, to box one of the police officers. That brings on a pretty good crowd. Whatever we can do just to fund things.”

Trimble is one of the poorest school districts in the state, and the money Jones raises goes towards textbooks, laptops, and other items students and teachers need. For a while, he said, he would donate money to Trimble Athletics until his brother-in-law pointed out the schools needed books and whiteboards rather than helmets and blocking pads.

“The tax base is so low, the school doesn’t get much money,” Jones explained. “If you don’t stay in school in today’s world, you can’t make it. . . . And you can’t teach kids if you don’t have the supplies.”

Jones and the members of the Trimble Textbooks and Supplies Foundation also organize a golf tournament fundraiser and have secured some grant money, as well as organizing a Coats for Kids drive.

“I don’t think you’re gonna find a place or a man, in my book, that’s got the heart that Sam does,” Robinson said. “In the ring and out of the ring, he’s not gonna let them get hurt, he tries to look out after them and he really encourages them in the right direction.”