ANDERSON — Steven Perry never really got to know Wendell Crumes, but few people have made a greater impact on his life.
Crumes, a 1947 Indiana Golden Gloves champion, trained Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings in the sweet science. And Cummings, a 1978 Indiana Golden Gloves champion, in turn trained Perry.
Perry is a two-time Golden Gloves open division champion and six-time Golden Gloves champion overall. He’s also won seven other state titles through various affiliations.
But the accomplishment Cummings is most proud of — and the one that most likely would have had Crumes beaming, too — is Perry’s status as a sophomore this fall at Anderson University.
“Steven was not quite going in the right direction,” Cummings said of the kid he first met 10 years ago at South Side Middle School. “He was struggling in school, and I’m not quite sure he had any idea where his life was headed. And the boxing program has given him a way to focus his discipline and dedication, and he’s had some significant success since then.”
Perry is a member of the National Guard and has been ranked as high as No. 7 in the nation. His goal is to represent the United States at the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil and after that embark on a professional career.
For now, however, he’s the star attraction at the Crumes Boxing Club — a converted storage room at the Geater Center that now houses the old ring from the Police Athletic League and was dedicated in Crumes’ honor Friday.
The room is a labor of love for Geater Center director Stephon Blackwell, with the support of Mayor Kevin Smith and the Parks Board. Blackwell repeatedly was told boxing couldn’t be done at the Geater Center. There wasn’t room. There wasn’t equipment. And there weren’t any trainers.
But he found a way to make it happen, and the goal now is to continue Crumes’ legacy of helping youth through the sport.
“I talked to a lot of people about this room in the community, and every time I talked to somebody they talked about Wendell,” Blackwell said. “About what Wendell did for boxing when he came to Anderson.”
What Crumes did was make the PAL Club a safe haven for at-risk youth. He encouraged young men to get involved with the sport, and he was known to personally show up at their door when they failed to keep their commitments.
Boxing was a way of instilling discipline in the fighters and providing them with self-esteem. Cummings is one of the finest examples of the benefits of Crumes’ work.
“I was a poor kid living on the streets (in 1973), and the PAL Club was a sanctuary for me,” Cummings said. “Wendell ran that boxing program. It’s where I first met him. I had this dream of being a world champion. Didn’t quite get there, came pretty close, but didn’t quite get there. But over the next seven or eight years, the impact of Wendell and the Police Athletic League boxing program had a profound change in my life.
“Honestly, the successes that I’ve had in life came from the PAL Club and from Wendell Crumes.”
Cummings passed what he learned from Crumes on to Perry. And Perry in turn will pass those lessons along to a new generation.
“I was once a kid from South Side Middle School who was getting into trouble,” Perry said. “And the boxing program came there and straightened me out. I stuck with it and learned the discipline from boxing.”
The Crumes Boxing Club won’t be fully operational until January. But Perry is training there every day now.
One day soon, he’ll compete under the gym’s banner in the ring. On that day, Crumes’ daughter, Jo Walker, will be the proudest supporter in the crowd.
Her voice broke with emotion Friday as she attempted to explain what the dedication of the gym means to her. The greatest comfort is the understanding that her father’s hard work will continue and his legacy will endure.
“I plan to be there rooting for (Perry), and I just know this is going to turn into something bigger than we can ever imagine,” Walker said. “I just feel it in my heart. It’s not going to stop here. This is just the beginning.”