By Courtney Conover – Here’s the thing about legends: Even in the wake of their departure, greatness persists.
At a press conference held at downtown Detroit’s TCF Center on October 9, 2021, Kronk Boxing Detroit revealed a new partnership between Sylvia Steward-Williams, daughter of Kronk’s Boxing Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward, and Jeff Styers, owner of Westland’s Norwayne Boxing Gym Youth Development Program.
Amid the backdrop of the renowned Joe Louis statue, Steward-Williams and Styers announced how Norwayne Boxing Gym’s boxing and youth development programs—coupled with the iconic Kronk heritage and brand name—would be of service to local at-risk youth.
“We have the products, we have pros, but we did not have an educational youth program. And with this youth educational program, we are able to educate kids, and have a free program for them,” says Steward-Williams, who has been leading the Kronk brand for more than 25 years and held all the rights to the brand. “The education is free, and the gym program is free—as long as they follow the educational program. And you can’t ask for anything more than that.”
The new Kronk Gym is located at the Jefferson-Barns Community Vitality Center at 32150 Dorsey Street in Westland’s Norwayne neighborhood.
Says Steward-Williams, “When the opportunity came to partner with Jeff Styers, who has a track record of putting kids and their futures first, I knew we had to find a way to join forces.”
Also joining Steward-Williams and Styers as a fellow partner is businessman Scott J. Savage.
The joining of Steward-Williams, Styers, and Savage is big, indeed.
But to truly gain a proper understanding of just how big, one must go back in time.
It all began with a man—Steward-Williams’s father, Emanuel Steward—who lived and breathed boxing and would go on to have an indelible effect on the sport, infusing it with not only his skill but also his sheer passion.
The story of how Steward got his start has all the makings of a quintessential small-town-boy-made-good tale, complete with healthy doses of grit and determination thrown in for good measure. Born in West Virginia in 1944, Steward moved to the Motor City when he was a young boy, just 11 years old. He evolved into an accomplished amateur boxer before eventually choosing to become a coach in the ring.
His big break was a humbling part-time position at Kronk Gym for $35 a week back in 1971.
Over time, the young boy from West Virginia eventually became the trainer affectionately known as “Manny.” And he grew to become the world’s most successful boxing trainer, having trained 41 world champion fighters, including Tommy Hearns, Hilmer Kenty, Lennox Lewis, Wladimir Klitschko, Milton McCrory, Andy Lee, and Oscar De La Hoya.
In addition to training youth, amateur, and professional boxers, Steward was a longtime commentator for HBO Boxing and was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame and the World Boxing Hall of Fame. Furthermore, his philanthropic efforts were right up there with his professional accolades, as Steward also donated his time and money to help children attend school and graduate from high school.
In 2012, Steward succumbed to colon cancer at the age of 68.
The original Kronk Gym, which opened shortly after World War I, closed in 2006, but Steward moved his training to a temporary location before he passed away. Then that gym closed, too. But three years after Steward died, Steward-Williams opened the doors to a new gym at a new location. In 2015, Kronk then opened in a church facility located on Mettetal Street on Detroit’s west side.
But as Steward-Williams stressed before, the Kronk brand was lacking an educational component for youth, in a formalized sense.
And that’s how Styers re-entered the picture.
You read correctly: Styers is no stranger to the Steward family, nor is he a newbie to boxing in general.
At the aforementioned press conference, Styers spoke about a letter he received from Steward back in 1984, when Styers was a senior in high school.
“I still have that letter today,” Styers recalled at the event.
Some background on Styers:
A native son of Norwayne, Styers became enamored with the idea of boxing after seeing the movie Rocky at age 13. He then set his sights on becoming a professional boxer himself. His unofficial foray into the sport involved refusing to back down when neighborhood kids came looking for a fight. Styers’ tenacity came in handy later when he officially began to pursue a career in boxing at an inner-city Detroit boxing gym.
It was there that Styers experienced his first knockout.
But he was far from deterred.
In the mid-1990s, Styers was touted as a future world junior welterweight champ. At the apex of his career, his inner voice instructed him to walk away from it all—the matches, the sponsorships, everything—and he finished his professional career with an 11-0 record.
But despite the ending, something remained: His connection with Steward. “My relationship with the Stewards, getting to know Emanuel, his wife, Marie, and daughter, Sylvia, goes back many years,” says Styers.
And Styers, a former U.S. marine, was never really done with boxing.
Styers went on to launch—and become the CEO of—Arrow Strategies, an employment agency in Southfield. Styers realized that the very same skills he had honed while boxing were integral in the establishment of his nationally recognized staffing and recruiting business.
And so, in 2015 Styers, a Wayne Memorial High School graduate who earned a degree in business management from the University of Michigan-Dearborn, opened the Norwayne Boxing Club in the former Jefferson-Barns Recreation Center (formerly Jefferson-Barns Elementary School) building on Dorsey Street in Westland, which is now the site of the new Kronk Gym.
It’s almost as if Styers has come full circle.
His interest in helping youth—in equipping them with the confidence and tools necessary to strive for and attain success—is not necessarily new to boxing.
And especially not to Steward’s brand of boxing.
“My father cared deeply about the young people at the (former Kronk Gym on Detroit’s west side),” says Steward-Williams. “He took care of them.”
Says Styers, “What Emanuel was doing was youth development—he just didn’t call it youth development.”
Still, the question remains: Does Styers ever wonder whether he retired too soon? What if he had decided to hang in longer?
Styers pondered—and answered—this very question on a busy Thursday at the Norwayne Boxing Club back in 2015.
“God told me there were other things to do,” said Styers back then.
Fast-forward to 2021—to a new, unprecedented chapter for Kronk—which Styers is beyond proud to be a part of.
Says Styers, “I’m honored to be a partner in the international Kronk brand with this legendary family. To carry on Emanuel’s mission is a dream come true.”