S.A. boxing coach takes talents to Tokyo Olympics on Team USA – San Antonio Express-News

San Antonio resident Jeff Mays dreamed of boxing in the Olympics.

Growing up, he’d slip socks on his hands and practice moves like his heroes Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard. The dream fueled him as a light middleweight in the Army when he became the U.S. Army Europe 156-pound champion in the early 1990s.

Winning has been a part of his resume for more than 25 years, even after an injury forced him from boxer to coach.

This week, Mays will be on Team USA as an assistant boxing assistant at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. In a way, his long-held ambition is being fulfilled.

“It’s not just being here — I want to be part of a winning team,” said Mays, 53, in a phone call from Miyazaki, Japan.

Mays, who coaches young San Antonio boxers, will be among the world’s premier athletic teams at the opening of the Olympics on July 23. Boxing matches are scheduled to start that day.

His wife, Donnise, and their children, along with relatives and friends from his hometown of Waynesboro, Mississippi, were ecstatic when they heard the news.

“It’s unheard of for anyone (from Waynesboro) to go to anything like this,” Mays said.

The team flew to Tokyo on Saturday for final training at the athlete’s village, where two people have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Mays said COVID-19 tests have been an integral part of the team’s journey to the Olympics. On July 1, he left San Antonio, taking flights to San Francisco and Tokyo, where it took five hours to clear customs. Mays said there were also COVID tests before the team arrived in Miyazaki and a safety-precaution bubble.

During their stay, the routine was to train, eat and head back to their rooms. Mays said the team also sparred with athletes from France, Australia, Ireland, Netherlands and Germany.

Mays, a retired U.S. Army master sergeant, has been a high-performance coach with USA Boxing since 2017.

It’s not his first time on the international stage of boxing. He helped train boxers who competed at the Pan American Games and World Championships in India, Russia, and Serbia.

Mays’ boxing career began when he visited an Army recruiter’s office.

When the recruiter asked him what he liked to do, Mays said he liked to box.

“Yeah,” the sergeant said, “you can do that in the Army, and they’ll pay you to do it.”

Mays soon took the oath of enlistment — the first step to achieving his dream.

He boxed for the Fort Polk Boxing team and in 1992 was the U.S. Forces Europe 156-pound champion and a year later was on the All-Army Boxing team. However, after he hurt his hand in Vielseck, Germany, he shelved his gloves.

That’s when Mays took on the role of coach.

In 2006, he was stationed at West Point as an assistant coach on the U.S. Army boxing team that won four collegiate championships.

Five years later, Mays, who was deployed to Iraq twice, retired and moved his family to San Antonio.

One of the things he noticed in his new home was the sport was didn’t have a big presence on the East Side. He wanted to change that and volunteered to train youngsters in the science and strategies of boxing at the Eastside Boys & Girls Club, 3503 MLK Dr.

Currently, Mays trains 13 boxers at the Davies Boxing and Fitness Gym. He’s trained athletes like national elite champion Ravven Brown and Yemila Tobias, a two-time Junior Olympics national champion.

Yemila, 16, and her family were thrilled to hear that Mays had made the team.

“He’s taught me everything I know,” Yemila said of her mentor. “And I’m very grateful he’s helping the people at the Olympics to get gold.”

Her mother, Nadia Tobias, 36, and family members have logged hours at training sessions where Mays has helped Yemila hone her boxing skills.

“His dreams are coming true. We’re very proud of him,” she said.

A month ago, Yemila took a break from training for an event she’s been waiting for — her quinceañera.

But when Mays returns in August, he’ll be there to support his protege. He envisions training for the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. Then, it’s time to focus on training Yemila and his roster of up-and-coming fighters.

His favorite thing about coaching is having an impact on kids’ lives. His counseling, relationship advice and life lessons are also vital moments of training.

“To me, it’s bigger than boxing,” Mays said. “It’s the catalyst to reach out to them.”