By Jordan Reining
MTSU Seigenthaler News Service
The slapping sound of boxing gloves echoes through the makeshift gym as young men jabbed at punching bags. With each jab, they made a puffing sound as they exhaled. Faces were red from exertion and sweat streamed down foreheads from the workout.
Watching from a short distance away, was Derik Moon, founder and coach of Paris Downtown Boxing. In the gym, his eyes concentrated on the movements of his young boxers. He makes for an imposing figure, his six-foot frame towering over most of his students. Bald, with a graying beard that hangs to the top of his chest, and arms full of tattoos, he looks the part of a ringside coach.
Derik Moon, one of the coaches at Paris Downtown Boxing, said boxing gave him confidence and he wants to share that with youngsters in Paris. Photo: Reagan McKay
Indeed, without Moon, there would likely be no boxing scene in Paris.
Moon, a Paris native, began boxing at the age of 10. His father enrolled him in boxing classes. “I got in a lot of trouble,” Moon, 45, said. For four years, he spent time in the ring, fighting opponents. He fell in love with competing, but there were few tournaments in the area so Moon parted ways with the sport as a teenager and began working in car detailing shops.
He began coaching 18 years ago when another coach introduced him to a young boxer who was turning professional and needed guidance. The young man had no gym to use, only a punching bag hanging from a tree.
Through word of mouth, kids around town heard that Moon was coaching and, one by one, young men who wanted to box kept asking him for help.
“It's really picked up a lot bigger than I ever imagined that it would be,” said Moon.
What started with one man and a punching bag has evolved into a community effort to outfit a training facility in a building on East Wood Street. The gym, outfitted with a ring with padded ropes, stationary punching bags, exercise weights and lockers, shares the space with a glass installation firm, Tayloe-Hancock Glass Co.
Young boxer David Aguilar takes a breather
during an afternoon workout in the gym.
Photo: Reagan McKay
The equipment, which includes gloves, shoes, mouth guards and jump ropes, along with tournament entry fees, is funded entirely by donations from the public.
Although he spends his days at Sparkles Auto Detail, his late afternoons and evenings are devoted to the boxers who have joined the program.
Moon is committed to helping the kids learn. Confidence, managing money, and self-discipline are all lessons that Moon and assistant coach Chris Mooney aim to promote at the gym.
“We try to teach kids lessons, you know, try to teach them, instill a conscience in them,” said Moon.
As the gym has grown in popularity over the years, the coaches and students have grown into a family. Movie trips and group texts have turned the boxers into a close-knit group.
“I feel like a piece of this is my purpose in life,” admitted Moon.
Moon and Mooney are devoted to the wellbeing of their students. Along with gym equipment, they have also bought toiletries and shoes for the young men. Whatever a member of the gym might need, the coaches try to supply it.
These good deeds have not gone unnoticed. Moon has learned an important lesson throughout his life; if you do the right thing, good things will happen in return. In 2021, the gym received a $10,000 grant from KFC’s Kentucky Fried Wishes program.
The support from the community has benefited the program greatly. Moon explained that whenever the community asks for help or volunteers, his gym is always willing to step up and give back.
“We volunteer, just anything...the community has been good to us. That's the least we can do for them,” said Moon.
The young boxers work on exercises to strengthen their core muscles. The boxers meet for training usually on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at their gym on East Wood Street.
Photo: Lillian Chapman
Moon’s dedication to the community and his students is due to his own upbringing. Describing himself as a troubled kid, he was in and out of reform school. Boxing granted him structure and a place to focus. The individual sport gave him a chance to change for the better. Now, as a coach, he wants to give that same chance to the youth of Paris.
Some of them are like him, looking for structure. “Kids come from bad backgrounds,” he said, adding he wants to help them as much as his former coaches helped him. Though he wants to teach the sport, his heart is with the students themselves.
Moon said he plans to help the boxers for the rest of his life. His commitment to them for the past 18 years has built the foundation. He hopes the sounds of gloves against punching bags will continue to be heard for a long time to come.
Jordan Reining (story), Reagan McKay (photos) and Lillian Chapman (photos) were three of 12 Middle Tennessee State University journalism students who recently spent two weeks in Henry County writing stories for the Paris Post-Intelligencer.