You Know You're From...Nekoosa: Ken Hilgers

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NEKOOSA, Wis. (WSAW)-- An abandoned school in Nekoosa, twice a week, serves as home to the Wisconsin Rapids Boxing Club.

"This is our 5th building," said Ken Hilgers.

"People need to know that this is still out here," said Nick Maher.

Led by longtime coach Ken Hilgers. Ken first stepped into the ring in 1967.

"I won more than I lost," he said with a smile.

He posted a career record of 22-12, before throwing in the towel in 1979. But it was 4 years before that, in 1975, when Ken realized he had what it takes to coach.

"I had a lot more positive feedback from watching these kids learn how to box than I did training and competing," Hilgers said.

Nick Maher began working with Ken when he was 7. A 5-time state champ, he's 25 now and serves as Ken's assistant coach.

"I live a block from here. I figured it'd be convenient, a good workout and get my itch satisfied without getting hit," said Maher with a laugh. "It turned into so much more, man."

If you step into Ken's gym, you better be ready to roll with the punches.

"I don't work real hard on motivation. If they're going to be a competitive boxer, they better come motivated."

"He works with us a lot," said 15 year-old boxer Evan Stenerson. "You learn a lot from Ken when it comes to patience and hard working."

A lesson that goes beyond the ropes.

"Every kid that comes through the door is special to us," Hilgers added.

"Every night you come to the gym I fell like you get a little lesson about life," said Maher. "Because when you get into the real world, no matter how much you train or how much you put into something, you're not always going to win. And you've got to learn, that's OK."

Another passion that brings Ken face-to-face with kids is reading. He does that as often as he can.

"That is probably the most enjoyable thing I've ever done in my life. You know they enjoy your presence, probably, more than my boxers enjoy it."

He's quick to give credit to the woman in his corner the last 40 years, Lynette, for supporting him along the way. Whether it's in the classroom, or in the gym, Ken Hilgers is still standing, duking it out with life.

"You know, he's always on the bright side of things. So you always try to make a decision with a little spoonful of Ken," Maher said with a big smile.

"I have no question that the time we spend with these kids, and the attitude we have with them, will be passed forward," Hilgers added.

And he'll be right there ringside to see it through, til the final bell.

Working with youth doesn't just stop with Ken. Wife Lynette is a preschool director, both his daughter and youngest son are teachers for students with special needs, and his oldest son is a youth coach year-round.