Inside a small metal building on the southwest outskirts of Waxahachie, Jesi Determan can be heard consistently blowing her whistle and barking orders.
She’s whipping a group of youth into shape, and she’s making sure they take it seriously.
Meanwhile, her brother Johnny Determan stands by watching intently, albeit quieter. It’s clear their training styles differ.
“Johnny says that I’m the mean one and that I’m no nonsense,” Jesi said, laughing.
Ironic considering Johnny’s professional boxing name was Johnny “The Law” Determan.
But while the siblings take different approaches to training their students, they share a mission – take the boxing experience that runs deep in the family’s history and use it to help the community.
Seeing an opportunity
Johnny opened Blue Line Boxing Fitness, located at 2498 FM 66, on March 1. Johnny, Jesi and their father John Determan are the trainers. Their mother Paula, who is a former boxing judge, handles administrative work. And Johnny credits his wife Cynthia for being a major supporter in the endeavor.
Blue Line offers a variety of classes for adults, such as cardio boxing, competitive boxing, one-on-one and group training and self defense classes.
But Johnny, Jesi and John, who all work in law enforcement, also saw the need to improve relationships between police and the youth, and they said Blue Line gives them a way to do that.
“Our mission is to help with fitness,” said Johnny, an officer with the Waxahachie Police Department. “But we also want to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community. We’re not all liked out here. So this is a way to take the barriers down and show them that we’re normal people.”
John, a detention officer for the Ellis County Sheriff’s Department, said in today’s climate a partnership between the police department and the community is more important than ever.
“What’s been going on in the U.S. the last few years hurts our hearts,” John said. “There’s bad people in every occupation, and the police really get a black eye. But we want to break that down. We want to let the kids know that the people in our business are not against them.”
Key to Blue Line’s mission is offering a place teens can go for guidance, the same thing John received when he was younger.
“Boxing saved my life,” John said. “It gave me a purpose. It gave me a place to go to blow off steam. It was the best thing that happened to me.”
John said Blue Line establishes relationships in several ways, such as taking the kids to see a local boxing match or ordering a major fight on TV and having a pizza party.
“It’s more than a boxing club,” John said.
John said Blue Line creates a positive environment for the kids.
“There’s no cussing, there’s no bad music,” John said. “We hold them accountable. They must keep their grades up, and they have to stay in school.”
Johnny said while the gym is available to anyone ages 8 and older, the trainers open their arms to youth who may have a troubled past.
“We’ve had some come here who are on probation,” Johnny said. “We’ve had some who got into a fight at school, and the parents bring them in to give them a place to take out their anger. They don’t feel ashamed to come here just because they’ve been in trouble.”
Johnny said you’d be hard pressed to find a gym in the area with the boxing experience Blue Line has.
It all begins with John, who was an amateur and professional boxer in the 1980s. At the amateur level, John won four Golden Gloves titles in the 112, 119 and 125 weight divisions. He also made it to the professional level, fighting in approximately 15 matches.
Once he retired, he opened up a boxing club in Omaha, Nebraska, and trained fighters for 22 years, helping boxers win Golden Gloves tournaments and major fights along the way.
Johnny, who fought in more than 100 amateur fights, began fighting competitively at 8 years old and won two Silver Glove honors by the time he was 10.
Other accolades include winning the National Junior Olympics in 2007 to qualify for Team USA, qualifying for the Cadet World Championships, winning bronze at the National Golden Gloves in 2008 and winning silver in the U19 National Championships in 2009. In all, he won six Golden Gloves titles and qualified for five national tournaments.
Johnny turned professional in 2012 and won his first 10 bouts, eight by knockout.
Those included four matches on the undercards of world champion Terence Crawford.
“It was a huge experience for me,” Johnny said of the exposure the HBO fights provided. In January of 2016, he lost his first professional fight, a unanimous decision loss to Oscar Mojica in Dallas. A few months later, he lost in a knockout to Alexandru Marin in the IBF International title fight, in which Johnny suffered a broken jaw.
Johnny considered a comeback in 2014, but by that time, he was already a police officer.
“I was working the night shift, and I was training all the time,” Johnny said. “I was spending a lot of time away from my family. It was a sign it was too much.”
Jesi, who is an officer for DART, said her interest in boxing began at an early age as well. She was 7 when her father started a boxing club in the family’s garage.
“I just grew up around it,” Jesi said. “I was into soccer and figure skating, but at the end of the day I wanted to box.”
John and Paula were hesitant at first, but a persistent Jesi convinced her parents to let her fight.
“My parents let me have one fight a year,” Jesi said. “They thought that I wouldn’t want to train all year just for one fight. But I trained all year for three years, and they let me do my own thing.”
Jesi said she lost her first three fights, including her first one that was a 3-2 decision.
She claimed her first victory in her fourth match and went on to win the World Ringside Championships in 2005. The following year, she was runner up in the same event.
After graduating high school in 2006, she put fighting aside but attempted a comeback in 2012. A year later, she and Johnny moved to Waxahachie to attend Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU). Jesi had just weighed in for a Texas Golden Gloves fight in Fort Worth, but her comeback ended abruptly after she was in a car crash the next day.
“I woke up and I asked if I won the fight,” Jesi said. “Then I just started asking the same question over and over.”
Jesi had to have a metal plate put in her head because of the brain injuries, and she was told she couldn’t box again. The timing couldn’t be worse.
“2012 was the first time women could compete in boxing in the Olympics,” Jesi said. “I saw someone who was in my weight class, and I knew I could beat her. So I wanted to go to the Olympics in 2016.”
Instead, Jesi went on to be a referee and a judge at boxing matches.
“I had to stay involved,” Jesi said.
Making a difference
Blue Line lets the family stay in the sport that has been a part of their lives for years. Johnny said the experience from all three fighters will only help the students.
“All three of us having gone through different coaching styles, and have had different experiences,” Johnny said. “Each of us has a piece of the pie we can put together.”
John said the future looks bright at Blue Line. He said the family hopes to put on the first boxing show in Ellis County.
John said Blue Line is also getting close to having its own competitive team as it’s preparing to register with USA Boxing.
While he’s excited about a possible team, he said competition isn’t the primary focus of the gym.
“It doesn’t matter if they want to compete,” John said. “We want to build relationships.”
“If we keep five kids out of the county jail by boxing, then we’ve been successful,” John said.