Meet Jimmy Goodwin Jr., the owner of Patriots Boxing Club, and his star student, Angel Martinez, who’s a boxing national champion.
Tucked within a storefront on Seventh Street in Rockford’s Midtown District sits the Patriots Boxing Club. The sounds of muscular teenagers pounding away on punching bags echo throughout the gym.
The buzzing of the ringer sounds every few minutes, signaling the time for two more boxers to step into the ring to begin another sparring session. This is a gym where teenagers improve their boxing skills, but it’s also a place that can shape many of their lives.
The overseer of this facility is Jimmy Goodman Jr., a full-time teacher at Flinn Middle School, who volunteers as the club’s boxing coach.
“I love what boxing has taught me in life,” he says. “Growing up in Rockford, boxing has introduced me to many cultures and many types of people. All sports are great, but there’s something special about boxing.”
Goodman is no stranger to the world of boxing. In the early 1980s, his father, Jim Goodman Sr., coached at the Lincoln Park Boys Club and the Downtown Boys Club. Young Goodman spent hours with his dad in the gym, watching the likes of former Rockford great Kenny Gould train.
Goodman had his first match at age 7. Goodman, who describes his boxing career as “decent,” fought throughout his teens as a Jefferson High School student and then in the Air Force before hanging up his gloves for good. “I had the opportunity to turn pro, but I wasn’t that good,” he says. “I wasn’t going to put myself through that grind.”
Goodman Sr. later opened his own gym in a barn located on his New Milford, Ill., property. It was an open gym where anyone was welcome to train. “We’d come home and there were cars lined up along the country road,” recalls his son. Now retired, Goodman Sr. pops in to the gym from time to time for a quick visit. “People looked up to my dad,” Goodman says. “That makes me proud. I want to give back like he did.”
And he has. Needing to find a centralized location, the Patriots Boxing Club eventually moved to a garage on the corner of Fifth Street and Seventh Avenue, in Rockford. Needing more space, the gym moved seven years ago to its current location on Seventh Street, in the former Rockford Mattress building.
It’s not ideal, but it’s the best Goodman can do for now. On many days, there are 50 or more kids packed into the cramped gym, fighting for workout space. Goodman dreams of opening a bigger facility, but that will take much-needed funds. “We’re making this work,” says Goodman, who also serves as vice president of the Illinois Amateur Boxing Association.
The future of the club may rest in the strong hands of Goodman’s prized student, Angel Martinez. The 17-year-old Auburn High School senior has been boxing since he was a skinny 10-year-old. And he’s good. Check out his resume – he’s a national champion, has more than 100 victories, has defeated boxers twice his age, and is training in hopes of boxing in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. When he graduates from high school in the spring, Martinez plans on staying close to home to attend college. He plans on becoming a nurse once his boxing days are over.
“He has the determination to fight and the ambition to get better,” says Goodman. “He was very raw. It took time. What helped Angel was I had another kid, Joey, who was a four-time national champion. Angel saw Joey work to become successful. They made each other better. You could see Angel had it. I’m hoping he can be the next world champion. You never know what can happen. You might see Angel on Pay-Per-View someday.”
Martinez was introduced to the sport by his uncle, Javier Argundeo, who boxed under Goodman’s father. “I liked the challenge, but I didn’t have the talent right away,” says Martinez, who fights at 108 pounds. “It took a lot of hard work to get to where I am today. The biggest thing boxing has helped me with is confidence. I was shy; I couldn’t look anyone in the eyes. That has changed thanks to boxing and Jimmy. He’s been like a father figure to me.”
With Martinez’s ever-growing success, the spotlight has shined brighter on the Patriots club. “People love winners and he wins,” Goodman says. “He has had a lot of people help get him to where he’s at. But no one has given Rockford boxing a bigger shot in the arm in the past 30 years than Angel has.”
Goodman knows what boxing means to many of the kids who train in his gym, many of whom come from broken homes.
“Boxing is keeping kids off the street,” he says. “I have kids I coached who are in prison or are teen parents. I tell them the same thing. It’s up to them. I can’t do it. I hate seeing those things happen, but I’m not going to dwell on it. I have other guys who want to learn and get better. Those are the ones I want to focus on.”
Goodman says he can count on one hand how many kids he’s kicked out of his program. He believes in second chances, but jokes “probably not in the same day.”
“I want to help as much as I can,” he says. “I’m not an easy guy to get along with. I’m tough and I’m very critical. I don’t focus on all the positives. I want to focus on what we can do to be better. I don’t want to lie to anyone and I don’t sugarcoat things.”
As for Martinez, he’s busy training for the U.S. Nationals Trials, which will be held in Utah later in December. He will find out in 2019 if he qualifies for the Olympics. His coach likes Martinez’s chances.
“What he lacks in God-given talent he makes up for in his power and conditioning,” Goodman says. “People say he’s fast, but I don’t see that all the time. I’m very critical in how he performs. I don’t want him to just win. I want him to look good in winning. But sometimes Angel’s worst day is better than most people’s best day.”
As Martinez moves up the ranks, Goodman would like to remain his coach. But that’s not up to him; it’s up to Martinez. “I would love to be in a 10,000-seat arena and hearing people scream his name, knowing I was a small part of it,” Goodman says. “But I’m never going to hold him back. I want to see him succeed.”
On most days, after the grueling practices come to a close, Goodman huddles his boxers together for a long pep talk. They typically talk about boxing strategy, but mostly the conversation centers around life lessons.
At 38, Goodman has spent most of his life around the sport of boxing. A single man, Goodman has a girlfriend, but his students are also like family.
“I love this sport, man,” he says. “It’s taught me a lot and it probably kept me out of trouble. I love helping these kids out, but I know I’m not going to save them all. I just want to do my part.”