Brad Hanson bought the Rexell building in Hotchkiss in 2005, taking a year to rehabilitate it.When Hanson reopened the building as Levels in 2006, the old drug store had been transformed into a state of the art gym for boxing, wrestling and martial arts. The name Levels is for the different levels of athletes who train at the gym, and also that there is training equipment on both levels of the building.
Hanson, who is manager of Bowie Mine, had to gut the building putting in new plumbing, wiring, heating and air conditioning. “We wanted to keep the basement looking like a basement. A lot of hard work happens down here. Some of the coaches during the off season will bring their teams in here for weight training.” Those teams have been on wrestling and football teams from Paonia and Hotchkiss high schools, although some junior high students also participate.
“This has been built for the kids and it’s all free,” Hanson said. “The paybacks for me are the kids and the programs. I bought the building out right and did all the rehab work. There are 27 individuals in here who pay by the month, plus there’s a waiting list to get in. But we don’t want it to get over crowded. Those 27 pay the insurance that is very expensive and they pay the lights, cable TV and gas.” The limited number of paid memberships are for adult workouts.
Hanson opened the facility to give the kids a chance to come to a place no one else has. “Schools lock up at a certain time. I started off by keeping the gym open at the high school at night, out at Hotchkiss,” Hanson explained. “Some kids are shy about joining something in high school. They’ll come out and we’ll work one on one with them. We help prepare them for that. Boxing in the valley has been gone since the 1940s. The old boxing ring is in the basement of Hotchkiss High. I remember seeing it when growing up. We’ve had one professional fight in MMA (Mixed Martial Arts).” There have been no professional fights at Levels.
For insurance purposes, they can’t box in Levels without the gear. They can practice, spar and train. It’s up to the parents to take their kids and enter them into boxing tournaments. “We’ve had up to 17 at a time in boxing lessons,” Hanson said.
Lou Grako has been Hanson’s partner in the project. “It’s always been a dream of Brad’s to give something back to the community,” Grako said. “We want to help kids with boxing and wrestling. A lot of famous people were in boxing and wrestling. They have contributed a lot to the American way of life and values. That’s how we want to help out — to instill values in young people.”
The value the programs teach the most is a sense of commitment. In competition Grako said, “Your job is to bring out the best in the other person because you are doing your best.”
Hanson added, “We don’t let these kids come in part-time. Whatever the time the coaches are volunteering during the week, [the kids] need to be there the whole time.”
Hanson is looking forward to May when athletes trying to make the U.S. Olympic wrestling team will be coming to Levels to train. The 12 athletes will train one week before going to Colorado Springs to qualify.
One of the volunteers at Levels is boxing coach Gordan O’Brien. He’ll be 80 years old June 4. O’Brien began his lifelong love of boxing when he was 15. He was a merchant sailor during World War II. O’Brien started the boxing program at Mesa State College in 1948. During the 24 years he served in the Air Force he continued boxing. He retired from the Air Force in 1972. He has boxed as a middle weight, and his older brother was his manager. He coaches traditional boxing, although he was a martial arts instructor in the military. O’Brien is in his second year of coaching at Levels. He has coached boxing throughout his life. He’s also coached his grandkids and the neighbor’s kids.
O’Brien believes boxing leads a young person to have self confidence and the weight training gets their bodies in shape. The two requirements to join the Levels boxing program are that the kid must be in school and have a desire to box.
“I’m glad I’ve been able to give back to the community,” O’Brien said. O’Brien coaches boxing Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 4-6 p.m. During the summer, the hours are 2-4 p.m. “I’m getting a lot of kids who are 14. They love doing it,” he said. “It gives them an outlet if they have any aggression. They learn that there is always someone better than them and they learn to respect them. If they almost get into a fight with someone on the school grounds, I encourage them to make friends with them and bring them down here and we’ll train them.” He emphasized, “Make a friend out of them.”
Ry Stone, Pee Wee wrestling coach, has been with Levels since it opened. He wrestled for the University of Missouri which is a Division 1 program in the Big 12. Before that he wrestled at Idaho Junior College. For two years he took third and second in the nationals. He was an assistant wrestling coach in graduate school for two years at the University of Missouri.
He finds Levels an important benefit for kids in the North Fork Valley. “It’s great for the kids. I grew up in a small town in Idaho that didn’t have anything,” Stone said. “Just being able to give back to kids in the community was the number one goal of Levels. It’s a non-profit gym. We don’t charge anything. Kids come in and work hard and learn. Hopefully they get something out of it.”
Stone teaches boxing, wrestling and mixed martial arts. He finds wrestling mirrors life. It’s all about overcoming difficulties and obstacles. “You have to work hard to be successful. You don’t have a team mate to blame it on. It teaches you the ups and downs of life,” Stone said.
Stone works with kids 4-12 years old. For Pee Wee sports you have to be five years old to compete. Pee Wee tournaments are held all over the county. In the public schools, kids can join teams and compete when they reach middle school. In the mixed martial arts, Stone coaches high school age teens. There are about 10 kids in the boxing program ranging in age from 12 to 21. They also have some novice adults.
C.J. Taylor is new to Levels and is a wrestling coach. He has an eight-year background in wrestling. He has previously coached Pee Wee wrestling. “It’s a sport where you build self confidence,” Taylor offered. “It teaches you to work independently.” Kids in the Levels program will have a head start when its time to join a team at school. When Taylor was a kid, he couldn’t start wrestling until he was 11 or 12. There are Pee Wee Wrestling teams in Cedaredge, Delta, Paonia and two in Hotchkiss at Levels and Hotchkiss K-8. The Pee Wee season is from February to spring. Free style wrestling can be all year long.
“I feel its a great sport. It’s a sport for males and females,” Taylor said. It’s good for self-defense.
“I want to get the word out that it’s going to be a really great program, not only for wrestling but also for boxing,” Taylor said.
Levels has ellipticals, tread mills, a stationary bicycle and weight machines on the main floor. Downstairs there are more weight and boxing equipment. The equipment by Hammer Strength is considered state of the art.
The training schedule has boxing on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays; wrestling on Mondays and Fridays; and Mixed Martial Arts on Wednesdays. Levels also puts on wrestling camps.
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Levels is located at 142 East Bridge Street in Hotchkiss. For more information call 872-1007.