Part of the FOX Sports Films documentary series “MAGNIFY,” the Andrew Renzi-directed “They Fight” tells the story of the Lyfe Style Boxing program in a neighborhood in Washington, D.C.’s Ward 8. The film follows young boxers Ragahleak “Peanut” Bartee, Quincey Williams and Lamar “Twin” Odom while coaches Walt Manigan and Sterling “Scoop” Thornton prepare them for the 2017 Junior Olympics. Manigan created the program not only to train young athletes, but also to mentor them and keep them away from the troubles he had faced in the neighborhood.
The idea began as a project by Mike Minahan (COL ’16) during his senior year at Georgetown University. That project evolved into a 2016 Washington Post article, and Minahan spent the year following his graduation pitching the story. Minahan spoke to The Hoya about the film’s creation, the dedication of the young fighters and the value of boxing.
How did you first learn about the Lyfe Style Boxing program?
I was on my way to a work-study job my junior year, and the bus driver saw me with my boxing shirt on — I boxed at Georgetown, too. He started showing me videos of these little kids, and that turned out to be the Lyfe Style guys. This bus driver was one of their original coaches. He kept showing me this Instagram, and it was the little boys from Lyfe Style.
I had to do a project my senior year, which was to write a journalism article. I had never written anything like that before, and I didn’t really know what I was going to do. So the beginning of senior year, I sent the Instagram a direct message and ended up going over there, and right off the bat, I fell in love. I went over there weekly for my whole senior year, once or twice a week.
How did it transform from the article to a documentary?
I did not know what I wanted to do at all after school, but I fell in love with this story so much, and I was like, “All right, I can’t leave these kids.” I loved being around them, so I tried to get this thing made.
I was going around meeting people, talking to people, trying to pitch people. I finally met a guy named Andrew Corkin, a producer. He helped out a ton, and he introduced me to the director. There were other filmmakers kind of interested in it but they weren’t super gung-ho about it. But then the director Andrew Renzi was super into it and really wanted to get started. From the first conversation to when we started filming, that was about three weeks, and I had spent a year from when I graduated trying to get someone to do it.
You served as a producer on the project. Since you had already established relationships with the guys in the gym, what did that role entail as you were filming?
That was pretty much my role. We rolled in with the film crew, a bunch of outsiders, which isn’t really happening a lot in southeast D.C. I was the bridge, at least for the first few trips, but then the boys were so cool. You kind of see it in the movie, just how friendly the boys are. Pretty much right away, the boys and members of the crew started to become friends. We had crewmembers that dropped other jobs when we were going to D.C. so they could come back. By the end, everyone became super tight.
Coach Walt explains how he wants to be a mentor to these young boys. How does coaching boxing allow him to do that?
As a boxing coach, you’re teaching discipline, you’re teaching all these different things, you’re teaching focus on a goal. If you want to get that goal, you really have to be focused on a singular pursuit. It teaches that really well, which I think is important because there’s a ton of distractions in that neighborhood for these kids.
Also, you see if you’re putting in enough work or not so easily because it’s one guy versus one guy or one girl versus one girl in the ring. You see if you’re working hard enough. Boxing is a really great way for a coach to instill these values in kids that they can use everywhere else.
When people see this film, what are you hoping they come away with?
Part of me just wants everyone who sees it to fall in love with those kids as much as I did and see how good of kids they are, how solid they are. The personal, sappy side of me wants you to fall in love with these kids, but I also think a lot of people just aren’t paying attention and it’s right there.
What we think of as Georgetown, super nice and all that, and then for the rest of the country, they probably think of D.C. and they think politics and things like that. But this stuff is happening right there and no one is paying attention to it. And good stuff is happening right there, too. These coaches stepping up to these kids, that’s happening right there and no one is paying attention to that, but also the harder stuff, the stuff that’s making life so hard for these kids even though they’re living in one of the richest cities in the country.
“They Fight” premiered Nov. 11 on FOX. The film is also available on-demand on the FOX Sports app. For more information, visit www.foxsports.com.