Scott Deering, wearing boxing gloves and a safety helmet, punched a large bag, each hit making a loud thump. He concentrated on his form, making sure his feet were balanced.
The gym smelled strongly of sweat and resin, but that didn't bother him. For four years, it has been like his second home, a place he can go to safely work off some energy.
"I used to get into trouble," said Deering, 21, of Bridgeton. "I got arrested for assault once. Now I come here and release some aggression. I haven't been in trouble for years."
"Here" is the North County Athletic Association boxing gym near Bel-Nor. Deering was one of about 24 young boxers sparring, jumping rope, exercising or hitting punching bags during a recent workout.
The boxing club gives the young boxers a chance to work out, learn the sport and bring discipline into their lives, said coach Jimmie Howell, 72, president of the association.
"We try and instill discipline and honesty," he said. "We insist they have good grades, because we want smart boxers."
Howell is helped by coaches Frank Henderson, Walter Foster and Lee Campbell, all ex-boxers.
The gym is not for people who just want to lose a few pounds after the holidays. The workouts are tough.
"We don't encourage people to just come and work out," Howell said. "We want serious people and want them interested in competing professionally."
The club has about 50 boxers enrolled in 2009, with most ranging in age from 17 to 34. They participate in boxing shows and the Golden Gloves tournament. Only about 5 percent have the ability to reach the professional level, Howell said.
"It's a tough sport," he said. "Other than mixed martial arts, it's the toughest sport there is."
Lamarr Harris, 24, spends as much time in the gym as he can. The North County resident has a 5-0 professional career as a junior middleweight.
"I started about 10 years ago," he said. "I just didn't have anything going on, and I fought with a lot of people on the streets. I love boxing. I'm less aggressive and I'm more professional."
Bel-Ridge resident Michael Gladney, 31, started boxing at 24. He, too, spent a lot of time on the streets, getting into fights and "beating up guys in my neighborhood."
"With boxing, I've learned how to control my temper," Gladney said. "I've been in 31 amateur fights and I'm 1-1 professionally. I enjoy it."
Howell understands the passion. He started when he was 7 years old.
"In those days, boxing was as common as baseball," Howell said. "Every Catholic church had a boxing team. I was born a Baptist, but I boxed on a Catholic team."
Howell fought until he was 17, then got married at 21. He worked for the U.S. Post Office for 35 years. His family lived in Florissant for 27 years, and Howell now lives in Lake St. Louis.
During all of that time, he never really quit the sport.
His father, Elmer Howell, was an amateur and a professional and became a coach.
"I'd help my dad coach, then me and a friend decided to start our own gym," Howell said. "We started at (St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley) in 1972. We moved to St. Charles for six months, then found this gym in 1974. Dad's boxers came and joined us."
Located at 2758 Old Hanley Road, the boxing gym had been an old meat market. It has served well as a gym, he said.
"I've seen kids come and go over the past 34 years," Howell said. "As adults, they come back and visit us. We currently have kids from all over North County and St. Louis."
The boxers pay a $35 fee annually for insurance, while the club provides all of the equipment. The athletic association puts on boxing shows to pay for rent and equipment.
As for some of his current boxers, they might be ready to follow Howell's footsteps.
Gladney often helps the young boxers as a sparring partner.
"I enjoy working with them," he said. "I'm thinking of coaching some day."