Will the Circle Be Broken?

A two-year-old brawl has south Minneapolis's most prominent gym on the ropes

Terry Marsh, the coach of the fighters opposing Sankara's that night, says he didn't see any skinheads either. But, he says, some bar patrons did provoke the Minneapolis visitors. "Some of the people who got hit deserved it," Marsh says. "There were some guys I would have hit myself." Still, after police were summoned to the scene, only one person--a fighter from the Circle--was arrested. Charges against him were later dismissed, though another Circle fighter, Calvin "Hood" Larkins, was later ticketed for coldcocking a fellow boxer during the fracas.

Disagreements about the melee itself, however, pale in comparison to the divergent views of USA Boxing's subsequent handling of the case. As the highest-ranking official on hand, Duane Byrnes--now president of the organization's Minnesota chapter--convened an emergency meeting in the wake of the disturbance, suspending the Circle from participating in the next round of the tournament. A second, more formal hearing held at the Kelly Inn in St. Paul the next month resulted in the most severe penalties ever handed down against a Minnesota boxing club. All told, three people affiliated with the Circle--Sankara Frazier, Larkins (a former Upper Midwest champ), and novice boxer Phillip McAfee--received lifetime suspensions from USA Boxing for their roles in the incident. Three other Circle fighters, including Adonis and Tremain Frazier, received suspensions and probation running from six months to a year.

Charging that the decision was procedurally flawed, the Circle has filed various appeals. Attorney Jerry Blackwell, who attended the hearings on the Circle's behalf, says the proceedings lacked "basic elements of fairness," including any testimony from people associated with the Circle. "I've never seen a proceeding like that one," Blackwell says. "It was just a farce."

Since his expulsion from amateur boxing, Sankara Frazier (right) has struggled to keep the Circle of Discipline going
Craig Lassig
Since his expulsion from amateur boxing, Sankara Frazier (right) has struggled to keep the Circle of Discipline going

But all the appeals so far have been denied by USA Boxing's national board in Colorado Springs. The board's attorney Brian Renfro says it was the Circle side that failed to present its argument: "Coach Frazier has been given proper notice of where to appear and testify, but he has never tried to make his case," Renfro says. The attorney dismisses suggestions that race played into the affair, noting that the organization "is made up largely of minorities. The idea that USA Boxing is against this guy because of his race is ridiculous. It's just wrong."

The Circle's latest motion--an appeal of a mediator's rejection of its request for arbitration last November--is now in court in Denver. Attorneys on both sides are uncertain about the exact timeline for a ruling. Meanwhile, Frazier says, he'll continue as he has for the past two years--working with the professional fighters in the Circle stable and letting his sons handle the amateurs.

In the time since the Coon Rapids incident, no Circle fighter has participated in a Golden Gloves competition. A.D. and Tremain Frazier have both made the leap to the pro ranks, and Frazier predicts Calvin Larkins will do the same soon. "They don't want to box amateur in Minnesota anymore," says Frazier, adding that handling of the case--both by police and USA Boxing--left some of the Circle fighters sour. "The amateur program is too weak for them anyway. They want to be champions."

The absence of Frazier's disciples has not gone unnoticed among boxing insiders. "It's been a big blow" to the local scene, says Marsh, the rival coach from the Coon Rapids fracas. In last year's Upper Midwest tournament, notes Marsh, the Minneapolis region had its worst showing ever, finishing in third place. "The other clubs haven't picked up where [Circle of Discipline] left off," he concludes.

His opinion on the expulsion of Sankara Frazier from the coaching ranks? "I think it's a bunch of crap--way too harsh," Marsh says. "These guys from USA Boxing, I don't know what their problem is. Frazier does a lot of good with the kids in Minneapolis. It's hard to find guys like that."

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