CEDAR HILL — Jamar Pemberton is proud of the gold medal he earned by winning the 165-pound weight division at the United States Boxing National Junior Olympics last month.
The junior-to-be at Northwest High in Cedar Hill is just as pleased with his 115-20 record as an amateur and his current status as one of the top up-and-coming fighters in the country.
But Pemberton’s biggest thrill comes from his anti-bullying stance, a cause he has championed since he was in grade school.
“I just don’t see why anyone should put someone else down or try to hurt them just because they might be bigger or stronger,” Pemberton said. “It just never made sense to me.”
Yes, one of the toughest young fighters in the traditional boxing town of St. Louis is against aggressive behavior among students.
Imagine — a boxer preaching non-violence.
His uncle Gary Welch and aunt Kathy have raised him since he was 7 years old. Gary Welch remembers that his “adopted” son took a stance against bullying at any early age.
“He was part of the anti-bullying squad in grade school,” Gary Welch recalled. “Right from the start, all the kids knew that they could go to him if there was any bullying going on.”
That trend continue in junior high.
Even now, at Northwest, Pemberton has been known to step in and help settle a score when a smaller student is being humiliated or embarrassed by a bigger one.
It’s not something he likes to talk about. It’s just something he feels should be done.
“It’s the right thing to stick up for a (student) who doesn’t have anyone to stand up for them,” Pemberton said.
Pemberton’s boxing skills are well-known around Jefferson County, which makes for a harmonious student body at Northwest. Word has gotten out over the years that bullying will not be tolerated. There is a Junior Olympic champion around to make sure that rule is followed.
The 16-year-old Pemberton is on a big-time roll after winning three matches to claim the middleweight title in Madison, Wisconsin, on June 29. He edged out top-seeded Donte Layne for the championship in a hard-fought split decision.
That triumph, the biggest of his career, has Pemberton thinking ahead. A berth in the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris is a distinct possibility according to his long-time trainer Kirk Douglas.
“When you win a tournament like he did, that’s the next step,” Douglas said. “If he keeps winning, he can get there. He’s that talented.”
Pemberton, known as "J-Money" in boxing circles, has been competing on the national level since he was 8 years old. He finished second in the Junior Olympics in 2015 and also grabbed the runner-up prize in 2017.
Those second-place efforts lit the fire for this year’s breakthrough victory.
“I had a good feeling the whole time at the tournament,” Pemberton said. “After my first win, I was really confident that I was going to take it home.”
Pemberton is not ashamed to admit he shed a few tears of joy seconds after the decision was announced.
“It just felt so good,” he said.
Pemberton grew up playing several sports including soccer, where he reached the club level. But he came to realize he would eventually have to focus on one sport.
“You have to put all your effort into boxing if you want to make it work,” he said.
Pemberton sheds most boxing stereotypes. He lives on three acres in House Springs and has been taken care of by his aunt and uncle.
“Most people think because I’m a fighter, I grew up in a rough neighborhood,” Pemberton said. “But I’ve had it pretty easy. I’ve had to work for what I’ve got, but I’ve had great support from the people around me.”
That includes his best friend, Sean Brown, who boxes along with Pemberton at Eagles Boxing Club in Arnold.
“He’s really believing in himself now,” said Brown, who fights at 132 pounds. “Everything is coming together. You can just see it. There should be no stopping him.”
Pemberton, a 6-foot-1-inch southpaw, is a tactical fighter who possess the ability to outpoint his opponents. He says his jab is his best punch.
An avid fisherman, Pemberton caught a 15-pound catfish two years ago and spends his time outside the ring whiling away the hours on Cedar Hill Lake.
In the ring, Pembroke is rising with a bullet. He began the year fighting at 154 pounds but moved up to 165 for the Junior Olympics. He expects to reach the heavyweight level by the time he stops growing.
Pemberton is hoping to eventually put his name among the likes of Corey and Michael Spinks, Devon Alexander, Archie Moore, Sonny Liston and Henry Armstrong, all of whom have St. Louis ties.
But for now, he simply wants to continue his winning ways.
“I want to turn pro someday,” Pemberton said. “I think I’m heading in the right direction.”