Growing up in Annapolis, Sean “Rocky” Cormier learned how to fight at a young age.
It’s how he earned the same nickname as the fictitious fighter from the movies. A difficult home life and trouble at school pushed Cormier into the streets of Annapolis Gardens and Newtowne where he was raised by his mother.
“I can’t really remember when people started calling me Rocky, but it fit cause I was always fighting,” Cormier said. “That’s what the streets knew me for even before I found the ring.”
At 23, Cormier decided one day to walk into a boxing gym and take a class. He never left. Eight years later, the 31-year-old Cormier has taken those experiences and channeled them into a new endeavor to educate and mentor young people in Annapolis with a new youth boxing program called “Cut Different Boxing.”
With support from the city of Annapolis, United States Naval Academy, Annapolis Police Department, its foundation and volunteers, Cormier’s dream is becoming a reality.
The program started operation at “Pip” Moyer Recreation center on Thursday with more than 25 kids ranging in age from 9 to 13 in attendance and excited to work with “Coach Rocky.” Some were there in play clothes and others were still in their school uniforms.
One of the young boxers is Talaya Green, a 9-year-old from the Annapolis area. Her mother, Trina Christian, said she was glad to have something positive for her daughter and the other kids in the area to participate in.
“All the time now, she’s asking me, ‘Is there boxing today? Is there boxing today?’ She’s just so excited,” Christian said. “I remember a couple years ago this program was supposed to get going but then COVID-19 happened so I’m extremely proud of Sean for staying with it and I support it 100%.”
Without a father in his life, and his mother busy raising his three siblings while working long hours, there wasn’t a lot of time for the oldest son, Cormier recalled. He found refuge in the only place that would have him: the street.
“That’s where the fighting started,” he said. “In school, starting in like the first grade I got expelled for fighting and that kept happening.”
Over the next 10 years, Cormier was drawn deeper into that life, getting caught up in neighborhood disputes and hanging out with people twice his age.
“I remember smoking with dudes when I was like 16 and they were like 30. I would say to myself, I’m really not trying to be in my 30s smoking weed with teenagers,” he said. “I just always wanted more. I had no idea how I was going to get past the part I was in, but I knew I wanted to.”
Desperate for a new life, a 23-year-old Cormier walked into Kicked Up Fitness in Annapolis and decided to take a boxing class. He took an afternoon class and ended up staying for seven hours.
“I started to do that every day,” he said. “The gym became my escape; it became my therapy.”
Soon, Cormier began training on a regular basis and with help from a coach at the gym he was able to improve tremendously.
“I’ve been fighting my whole life, so it came kind of naturally to me,” he said. “Obviously it’s more than that with the discipline it takes and practice, but my first boxing coach told me I just had the heart for it, the will to fight.”
Cormier understood the fight it takes to survive outside the ring and perhaps that makes him perfectly suited to help others.
Since he took up boxing, Cormier estimates he has taught and mentored almost 100 kids in Annapolis. He’s paid to take them bowling or get tickets to sporting events as a way to reward them for getting good report cards.
He’s a father of two now and dedicated to being a good example for his children and anyone else he can help.
Cormier said while he’s been working to touch as many kids as possible, without full support he has had to watch several of his students fall back into the streets.
“Just since last year, I lost a few kids I was training because I didn’t have facilities. Boxing outside when it’s hot or cold can be brutal,” Cormier said. “Because of that, some kids drifted away. One got shot, another shot somebody, it’s just the way it goes, unfortunately. That’s why giving these kids something they rely on and learn from is so important.”
Earlier this month, Cormier and a group of community leaders gathered at “Pip” Moyer Recreation Center to cut the ribbon on the new boxing program. They are using an old boxing ring donated to the Annapolis Police Foundation by the Naval Academy boxing program. Mayor Gavin Buckley secured $10,000 in this year’s city budget to pay for other expenses.
The key to the program’s success is a group of volunteers, who help tutor the young boxers, said John Holland, a representative for the Annapolis Police Foundation. The program is seeking a staff of 12 people to commit to two-hour shifts each week, Holland said. Those interested in becoming a volunteer should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It’s not just teaching boxing; this program can literally save lives,” Holland said. “Rocky has been pushing this idea since 2016 so it’s beautiful to see it come together, not only for him but these kids will be the biggest winners.”