The boxing gym at the 12th and Park Recreation Center is nothing to look at, with its peeling paint and ancient-looking equipment. Sans A/C, or even cross-ventilation, the place blasts like a furnace on hot summer days. But the scrappy setting matters not to St. Louis' young fighters, who flock to the gym by the dozen come weekdays at 2:30 p.m. They start young — trainer Kenny Loehr will take 'em beginning at age seven — and seem to stay forever. A former Marine who was shot in the Korean War, the 76-year-old Loehr won his bread as a postman but made his life as a boxing coach. Since 1955 he has shepherded hundreds of fighters to Golden Gloves championships and took Michael Spinks all the way to the 1976 Olympics. Loehr's latest star is Deandre "The Bull" Latimore, a Vashon High School grad who recently turned pro and moved to Las Vegas for more exposure. Fighters say Loehr has long been known for his hard-knocks, no-nonsense approach. "I thought he was a maniac when I first met him," says Harold Petty, Loehr's assistant. "But he softens up once he sees that you love to work." Loehr puts it another way: "I'm not what you call too nice of a guy sometimes, but my life is these kids."
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