When Tim Hall was going through a dark time in his life, boxing was one of the only things that kept him clean. Now, he’s trying to make sure kids in Gainesville and surrounding areas have the same opportunity.
Hall — a professional boxer for the last 15 years — is an Athens native and resident still, but he works and trains at The Beast Sports Center in Gainesville, where he runs his No Kids Left Out program — a class he developed to train children who might otherwise end up on the streets selling or doing drugs. The idea was born out of advice he received from his mother.
“My mom always taught me to believe in God, and the first thing is you’ve got to give to receive,” he said. “So I decided to give back.”
Hall’s love of boxing began when he was around 6 years old. His father bought a pair of boxing gloves each for Hall and his two brothers, because he wanted his sons to be tough. Hall’s father would bring in other boys from the neighborhood and have them fight against his sons, and Hall fell in love with the sport immediately. But starting in the summer following his fifth grade year in school, fighting started to take a back seat to drugs.
He began selling crack cocaine when he was 12, and boxing sparring sessions turned into street fights. Hall’s skills translated well to the less official brawls, and he began to develop a reputation around Athens.
“Guys were getting to the point where they were getting scared of me, and they would start jumping on me and they would start trying to shoot at me and everything,” he said. “I was being shot at so many times in my younger life. I was amazed that I just made it out of a lot of situations and never got hit.”
He continued to sell drugs until his early 20s, when an incident with a friend's mother caused him to reevaluate his life choices.
He had taken to selling to the woman — who was wheelchair bound — because he was afraid other dealers might have taken advantage of her, he said. Hall’s friend came banging on his door frantically one night to tell him her mother had fallen in the shower and hit her head. When he learned the woman had died, all he could think about was how he had sold drugs to her earlier that day and made tangible contributions to her health problems.
“I knew at that point in time I wouldn’t sell it to my own mother,” he said. “So if I wouldn’t sell it to my mother, why was I selling it to my friend’s mother?”
A few days later, Hall was hanging out at a friend’s house — who was also a dealer — when the police came by to carry out a raid.
He was already on probation for a previous arrest and knew he might go to prison for a long time if he was convicted on another drug charge. His then partner was pregnant with their child at the time, and Hall worried about his expected daughter growing up without a father in her life.
As police officers rifled through his friend’s belongings, Hall made a promise to himself.
“That was the day that I actually told myself if God will allow these cops to somehow just not take me to jail, I promise myself that I’ll never sell drugs again.”
The cops did not find what they were looking for, and Hall had a second chance. He took full advantage.
He had turned professional a few years earlier but had largely given up on boxing while focusing on his drug dealing career. Now, his only focus was getting back into boxing shape and making sure he could give his daughter the best life possible.
Hall started training with Athens-based trainer Keith Keppner at a gym called Doro MMA. Hall said his professional status gave Keppner legitimacy, allowing him to start his own gym — Keppner Boxing & Fitness. Hall trained and worked there for a time, but quickly started to butt heads with Keppner.
Hall said several of Keppner’s clients asked personally to have Hall — a professional — train them himself, but he never received a personal client of his own at the gym. Hall saw his hours get cut down significantly, to the point where he was teaching one class a week for $11 an hour, sometimes making less than $400 in a month.
“That’s not even rent,” he said.
Keppner has a different perspective on how events unfolded.
Keppner, an established boxing coach mentored by his father, Doc Keppner, has produced Golden Glove and amatuer champions who have gone on to have successful pro careers. He said his gym has succeeded thanks to an amazing staff, of which Hall was only a small part for a short time.
He said he was Hall’s trainer when Hall experienced his biggest and most reputable wins of his career, beating undefeated Isaac Salters 7-0 and Jose Felix 11-22.
Keppner said Hall made more than $11 an hour, and requested a minimum schedule of work. He said Hall repeatedly was late for classes or didn’t show up at all, resulting in his hours being reduced even more, and eventually was terminated for the same reasons.
Hall left Keppner’s gym, and found himself broke, without a job and without a place to train to further his career. That was when he came up with the idea for his “No Kids Left Out” program.
Hall offered free training, five days a week for three weeks, to any child who was interested. He said he had around 10 kids show up, and he worked them out in his yard. After the three weeks were up, he told the kids’ parents that he would continue lessons, but now he would be charging $150 per child for the program — just $10 a day for an hour and a half of training.
None of the kids returned for the paid program, but Hall wasn’t ready to give up. He decided to offer three more weeks of free training, since he didn’t believe the kids should have to suffer for their parents refusing to pay.
One week, it rained for several days in a row, and Hall had to put a halt to his training. He made a Facebook post expressing frustration about his situation, which was seen by Nick Sewell — a friend of Hall’s who used to train at Keppner Boxing & Fitness.
Sewell — a Gainesville resident — had since started training at The Beast Sports Center, and told Hall the owner was looking for a new boxing trainer. Hall applied, interviewed and was offered the position. When he told Valerie Smith, the director of training at The Beast Sports Center, about his program with kids, she recommended he move it to her gym.
Hall accepted the job.
Since then, Hall’s life has seen a major turnaround. Though he’s not a fan of the commute from Athens to Gainesville, Hall said he has stabilized his financial situation, giving him more peace of mind in his care for his daughter Katima. Hall has raised Katima as a single father for the last five years, and the steadier paychecks have taken much of the stress out of that process.
While drugs ruled Hall’s life for much of his teenage years and his early 20s, he now has plenty of motivation to stay clean.
He’s inspired by his daughter, his dreams of one day owning his own gym and — even though he no longer plans on becoming a champion fighter — he wants to reach 10 professional wins (Hall’s current record is 9-25).
But Hall is also motivated by the power he has to stop young people from making the same mistakes he did, and now he’s trying to make sure that message is heard.
“I really want to give back to the kids, and I really want to show people what I learned,” he said. “Hopefully I change one life. If I change one life, I’m cool with that.”
This article has been updated from its original version to add comment from Keith Keppner.