Like sport itself, Tacoma Boxing Club’s situation ‘dire’

This should have been a banner month for Tom Mustin.

A few weeks ago, Mustin, who has been tutoring boxers for the last 45 years, was inducted into the national Golden Gloves Hall of Fame. The Tacoma Boxing Club he oversees is teeming with young, potentially Olympic-caliber talent.

Mustin would know. He’s a former U.S. Olympic boxing team head coach.

But the ever-positive Mustin used a word Saturday explaining why May isn’t a banner month for him. The future of the Tacoma Boxing Club, a labor of love that has consumed his entire adult life, is “dire.”

Said Mustin: “We’re living on credit cards right now.”

For the past few years, Mustin’s boxing club has managed to stay afloat thanks to a $25,000 annual grant from the Tacoma Athletic Commission. It’s a generous check the TAC no longer has the ability to write.

And while Mustin is determined to keep the Tacoma Boxing Club’s doors open for as long as there are Tacoma kids aspiring to box, the absence of TAC funding all but eliminates any opportunity for his boxers to travel to regional and national tournaments that provide them with the motivation to excel.

In other words, well, there are no other words.

“Dire” says it all.

Every sport relies on a talent-feeder system to regenerate itself. Amateur endeavors, such as the one Mustin oversees at the Al Davies Boys and Girls Club, are to boxing what NCAA football is to the NFL. If there’s a sudden disbanding of college programs because the money to fund them dries up, autumn Sundays will have a distinctly different mood in 10 years.

You still might inclined to watch sports, but you won’t be watching football.

What’s frustrating for Mustin is that big-time boxing produces enough money to sustain an amateur-talent feeder system in every town with a post office. Three weeks ago, for his 12-round “Fight of the Century” against a possibly unfit-for-the-ring Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jr. was paid $179.8 million, or roughly $5 million a minute.

On-site ticket revenues in Las Vegas generated $74 million, about $14 million more than the ticket sales for Super Bowl 49 generated in Phoenix. Between tickets, pay-per view subscriptions, concessions and merchandise, Mayweather-Pacquiao turned into a $500 million jackpot.

Meanwhile, Mustin is desperately seeking the $25,000 he needs to continue sending possible Olympic qualifiers to Olympic qualifying tournaments.

Saturday presented an intriguing chance for Mustin to share his saga with a boxer whose corner he once worked during the Olympic Trials: Mayweather, expected to appear at the five-on-five basketball tournament organized at Foss High School by his friend, Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas, a former Curtis High and University of Washington star.

“I was hoping to get him aside for a few minutes to explain our situation,” Mustin said, “but he never showed up. He knows me from the Olympic Trials, but arranging a conversation with somebody like that is not easy. He’s got all those bodyguards.”

The Tacoma Boxing Club’s uncertain destiny mirrors that of the sport. Many of those fans who’ve got no qualms about the brutality of an organized fight tend to find mixed martial arts more appealing — a trend Mayweather and Pacquiao did nothing to buck during their yawn-inducing sparring match in Las Vegas.

Others are troubled by the general nature of boxing itself. Encouraging kids to participate in an activity that poses an obvious safety risk is, on some level, intellectually unjustifiable.

As we learn more and more about the long-term consequences of head trauma, the idea of putting gloves on adolescents and watching them pound each other’s frontal lobes defines “barbaric.”

And yet boxing also promotes discipline, self-reliance, confidence and motivation — powerful virtues for teenagers vulnerable to the temptations that await them on the street corner. It’s not an exaggeration to liken the Tacoma Boxing Club to a kind of rescue mission, a safe haven where kids are taught — as former Golden Gloves heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali once was — that the greatest love of all is learning to love yourself.

The Tacoma Boxing Club is open Monday through Thursday, from 5:30 p.m to 9. Participants between the ages of 8 and 17 pay an annual fee of $90; those between 18 and 34 pay $120. Membership in USA Boxing, which costs $35 a year, also is required.

Novices are welcome, dreams are encouraged, and the rest of the ground rules aren’t complex:

• “Be on time to training.”

• “Be ready to learn and work hard.”

• “Be respectful of our coaching staff. They are donating their time to help you become the best athlete you can be.”

For those who are punctual and eager to learn in an environment where volunteer coaches demand only basic courtesies, there is a prize: the opportunity to compete against the best of the best, throughout the United States.

Without that prize? The Tacoma Boxing Club is reduced to an after-school workout gym.

On May 2, Floyd Mayweather Jr. pocketed $5 million a minute for exchanging some half-hearted punches with Manny Pacquiao. On Saturday, Tom Mustin mulled the uncertainty of sustaining the Tacoma Boxing Club if its most accomplished participants are deprived the chance to travel.

“I’m not giving up,” said Mustin. “I’m never giving up.”