Known primarily as a football town, boxing has always struggled for an identity in the Emerald City. A bizarre sport occasionally encountered on television, Seattlites would just as soon enroll their kids in the local tennis clubs than the seemingly obscure local boxing facilities. Even tiny Auburn, Wash., a city one-fifteenth the size of Seattle, is the hometown of the state's most recognizable boxer, Greg Haugen, and therefore a more recognizable boxing community than the Emerald City.
The heartbeat is faint, but there is still a pulse. Some kids do have a desire to compete in the sport, and as 65-year-old trainer Willie "Bumblebee" Biscoeray likes to say: where there is a desire, there is a way.
Seattle is currently home to five boxing clubs, all based in downtown or in South Seattle. The longest running of these clubs is Biscoeray's Bumblebee Boxing Club, partnered with the Union Gospel Mission on South Othello Street.
In an effort to increase interest in the sport, Biscoeray has recently held amateur competitions against the cities of Tacoma and Everett. The events have been sponsored by one of his former students, Bill Cahill of Beacon Plumbing in Renton. On Nov. 26 an event was held at Eagle's Fraternal near Boeing Field, and three more are scheduled for January: one in Tacoma on Jan. 19 and 20, and the other in Everett on Jan. 28.
"I'm trying to bring boxing back," said Biscoeray, who has run Bumblebee since 1990. "When I was a kid we had a show called the King of King's Ring. We fought every week and it was on TV. The big thing is to get people to know that the events are going on. If we get a regular show going then boxing will come back. It's like anything else. If people don't see a lot of it then there are limits. We did a lot of advertising for this last show, but only a couple hundred people showed up."
Rising above hard times
Biscoeray struggles on with the same determination he preaches to his fighters. Not with any selfish monetary desires driving him forward, but out of a true kindness of heart. A professional fighter from 1962 to 1980, Biscoeray was paralyzed from the waist down in a 1985 accident driving a transit bus. For a time he lost his motivation, not wanting to continue, but then reflecting on the words of his mentor he decided to change the direction his life had taken. He worked hard to regain his ability to walk. Despite having no feeling in his legs he achieved his goal in 1991 shortly after embarking on the biggest charitable project of his life - Bumblebee's.
"An old fighter helped me out a long time ago and I asked him what I could do to re-pay him and he said, 'just do for some kid what I've done for you. Whatever you think that's worth, you do that too,' " said Biscoeray. "Well, it's worth a lot to me. Had I not had boxing I don't know where I would have been. I didn't have much structure as a kid growing up.
"My grand kids looked at all my trophies, my boxing equipment, photos and stuff, and one of my kids, I told him I'd never been a world champion, and he said 'Well grandpa, I'll win the world's title for you if you teach me how to box.'"
The request became Biscoeray's driving force, his desire. Since then he has donated his time from six to nine every weekday, training over 3,000 fighters during this time. His only requirement is that a fighter must be age five or greater. Many of his fighters have gone pro, and he still has family rising up through the ranks.
"This is the best way to make a million for me," said Jumanne Moore, Biscoeray's 27-year-old grandson. "I could turn pro right now, but the question is when do you want to turn pro? You might want to go to college first then you go pro."
Currently, Moore is 6-0 with 2 KOs and is one of Biscoeray's top fighters having won his match at the Nov. 26 Seattle event. Moore also holds victories from tournaments in Kansas City and Arizona and is one of 15 to 20 fighters Biscoeray currently trains.
However, Biscoeray is always willing to accept more into his tight-knit, Christian-oriented family environment, as long as they show commitment towards improvement and respect towards their fellow boxers.
A fighting plan for success
When one walks through the door of the Bumblebee's training room the first thing they see is a sign that reads, "In this gym you must wear proper attire, which means no sags and no rags."
"You can't do drugs," says Biscoeray. "You can't stay out all night. You can't chase women. You can't hang out on the corner and be a gang banger."
This gym etiquette is part of Biscoeray's Four-D plan: desire, discipline, dedication and determination. Mix in a little spirituality, and, according to Biscoeray, you have the keys to becoming a good fighter, and more importantly, becoming a success in life.
"First of all, you have to have a desire," he said. "If you have a desire to do something, then you'll discipline yourself to do it. If you discipline yourself to do it, you become dedicated. With these three you gain determination. They all work hand in hand."
Bumblebee has a unique blend of fighters, young and old, male and female. Some seek to break old habits, lose weight, push themselves to the limits, become a world champ, or hone their self-defense skills. Whatever their reasons, there is one common theme that runs strongly in the group from top to bottom and it jumps out at you like a Mike Tyson uppercut amid a series of left jabs - this is a family not unlike a hive of bees.
"We don't have any arguments in this gym," said Biscoeray. "There's no honcho in here. I'm the only honcho in here and you don't know it because I treat everybody just like I treat myself. I don't talk down to them. I don't make them feel lesser than I am. Each and every person here, the males and the females, they'll all tell you that coach treats them like they're important."
Everyone shares their victories and feels the pain when a teammate endures a loss. Even though it is a sport made for individuals, Biscoeray very much preaches the team atmosphere.
"If coach wasn't there, I'd really feel alone," said Moore. "When I come back to the corner I hear his voice for sure. He's with me. We go to war together in that sense."
And as every fighter likes to point out, boxing is a sport of endurance, and every ounce of strength of character that Biscoeray has poured into them is required to survive in that ring.
"We are not tough guys getting into a ring pounding it out," said Trevor Roycroft, a 35-year-old recovering alcoholic who was essentially saved by Bumblebee, both in terms of killing his habit and losing over 90 pounds since starting the sport. "The question is how you as a person react when you are really tired and hurt. Can you keep calm? Can you stay centered even when someone is laying it on you? It's the little things."
Through his walking-the-talk efforts Biscoeray has created a sense of mutual respect that underlies his fighters' desire to succeed for him. They genuinely like him. It's a trait that all good coaches and over-achieving teams in any sport carry.
"The coach is a great inspiration to me," said Teresa Freeman, a 38-year-old female boxer and daughter of one of Bumblebee's first trainers. "He was paralyzed from his waist down, and doesn't have feeling in his legs, but he can walk. He works out with us and everything. I can't sit around and cry when I think of what he does."