2014 Oregon Golden Gloves

What: Amateur boxing tournament, featuring bouts with boxers ages 17 to 34 from throughout the Northwest; includes raffles, silent auction, full bar, concessions; champions advance to regional Golden Gloves in Las Vegas next month.

When: Today at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 5 p.m.

Where: Eagle Crest Resort, Juniper Hall, 1522 Cline Falls Road, Redmond

Tickets: $15 on Friday night, $20 Saturday night

Contact: www.deschutescountyrocks.com or 541-678-2286

Growing up in hardscrabble Rock Springs, Wyo., Richard Miller continually found himself engaged in fisticuffs with other young boys at the town’s movie house. His father was fed up, and he knew his son needed an outlet. So one day, Jack Miller came home from his job as a foreman in a coal mine and told Richard, then 8 years old, to grab his sneakers and shorts.

They were going to the gym.

That marked the start of the Rock Springs Boxing Club. After boxing competitively well into his 20s, Richard later took over as coach of the club, long after his dad had passed away.

Richard coached in Rock Springs for 12 years before moving to Bend in 2004. This July he will mark 10 years as founder and head coach of the Deschutes County Rocks Boxing Club in Bend.

For 22 years, he has given youngsters the same outlet that his father provided for him, volunteering to help impressionable youths steer clear of trouble and grow into mature, respectable adults.

“I use boxing as the vehicle to teach them other things that are going to help them in life,” says Miller, sitting behind his desk at the Rocks’ gym in downtown Bend. “They’re going to learn respect, discipline, dedication, sportsmanship. Grades (in school) are the No. 1 thing. You can’t have below a C and be on our team.”

The Deschutes County Rocks program has grown from a single boxer in 2004 to about 30 boxers today. The fighters range in age from 7 to 16, most of them between 13 and 16. Seven of them are females. The majority are Hispanic.

“I’ve had several kids who have done other sports, that have either been overweight, or not fast enough, or they don’t fit into the right clique, or they can’t afford it,” Miller says. “So what are they going to do? Are they going to be out on the street or playing video games? They’re not going to amount to what they could be unless somebody just gives them an opportunity.”

Miller — who works full time as a service technician for a local landscaping business — has been giving that opportunity to young amateur boxers in Bend for a decade. The improbability of his nonprofit, all-volunteer club lasting for 10 years in Central Oregon is not lost on Miller. The region is not exactly a boxing hotbed.

“It’s kind of a big milestone for a nonprofit all-volunteer club to be around that long,” Miller says. “I’m pretty proud of that, because it takes a lot of work. And it’s not just myself — it’s my wife, these other coaches.”

Miller, 50, has three assistant coaches who, along with his wife, Patty, help him with practice four nights per week at the club’s modest gym on Greenwood Avenue. Miller travels with his boxers across the West to compete in weekend tournaments. And the club often hosts events, including the Oregon State Golden Gloves tournament tonight and Saturday at Eagle Crest Resort in Redmond. Winners from various age and weight classes will advance to the Golden Gloves regionals in Las Vegas next month.

Boxers for Deschutes County Rocks pay a monthly club fee of $50, most of which goes toward gear and travel expenses.

Miller says it took about 3½ years to really establish the club.

“We’ve had success,” he says. “From that first year, all the way until this year, we’ve had somebody advance to a national tournament every single year. This year there’s three.”

Boxing has long had a bad reputation for causing head injuries, but Miller claims that sports like soccer, football and lacrosse put youths at greater risks for concussions and other head traumas.

Amateur boxers wear protective headgear and punch with gloves that weigh from 10 to 12 ounces each.

“I’m not saying there are not injuries, but they’re not prevalent,” Miller notes. “Once in a while you’ll hear something, but it’s nothing like it is for football and soccer. If (parents) come and see what we do, how we run the program, they will see that in amateur boxing, safety is paramount.”

Miller adds that coaches will stop bouts if they believe a fighter is in danger, and doctors at each tournament perform pre- an post-bout physical examinations on every fighter.

In amateur boxing, bouts range from three three-minute rounds for the oldest ages classes to three one-minute rounds for the youngest age classes.

Miller estimates that in the last 10 years, about 300 kids have walked through the doors of his gym to try boxing. Some quit after a few days, others stay for years. Some are overly cocky, others are overly timid.

“A lot of them come in here with this attitude, like ‘I’m the guy,’” Miller observes. “Some say, ‘I just like fighting.’ Some say, ‘I just watched Rocky (the movie) last week.’ Some of these kids are really shy, and they learn self-confidence.”

And that is what drives Miller as a coach. Aside from developing numerous state and regional champions, he wants to develop productive citizens.

“The way the world is right now, they lose sight of just being a regular person,” Miller says, referring to youngsters in general. “We want to instill in them values and morals, that’s the biggest thing we strive for. It’s really gratifying when you see those kids progress.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0318, mmorical@bendbulletin.com