ATLANTA — Atlanta lost a great young boxer this week, coaches for 15-year-old Cameron Jackson said Thursday.
Jackson was shot over the weekend near Atlantic Station. A 12-year-old boy died near the shopping complex. Jackson's injuries were dire -- police announced his death Wednesday.
"Cameron was a great kid," Mark Sanders said. "He had a lot of potential to be a great fighter."
Sanders had been coaching Jackson since he was about 10 years old with the last three being at Buckhead Fight Club.
Terri Moss, the club's owner, said Jackson's talent shined through. The teen had been homeschooled and spent hours at the club -- adding that he stood out.
"He's not the first one we've lost. He had a lot of life," Moss said. "Their development is our job."
The two boxing professionals said what also stood out were Jackson's parents. They said both his mother and father were very involved with him and the sport.
"His father was at the gym every day with him," Moss said.
And when he wasn't - Jackson's mother Tiffany Smith, was driving more than an hour and a half for his sessions and waiting hours until he was done training for the day, the teen's coach said.
"You look at the time they put in and the sacrifice they made with their child - I seen that firsthand, the support they give to their son," Sanders said. "We need more parents like that."
Smith has been vocal following the news of her son's death. She condemned gun violence on Thursday and asked the community to remember her son as a driven boxer and to ignore any other narratives surrounding her child.
"Listening to the other mother speak about not having the resources, you know in my situation we had all the resources," the mother said. "The one thing that we were unable to deal with was the community, the environment, the city. And that right there is something that I'm committed to transforming in Atlanta."
Sanders said that transformation isn't easy in the face of strong and often misguided influences, adding that it's ignorant just to chalk it up to youth violence.
"The sacrifices they made for him, it's unfair to leave that out there that this was just gang culture," Sanders said. "He was a great kid that had a great family that had a bright future in this sport."
The boxing coach said outside the gym, there's a strong pull to misguide young boys into trouble for the sake of finding community.
Though Jackson found the sport on his own, Sanders said for some young athletes boxing could be a place to go when they're seeking a place of belonging. It's a responsibility they don't take lightly.
He said the boxing community as a whole is trying to show young boys that the sport is an option and a way to get off the streets. He said the boys should take their energy to the gym.
"Boxing gives a child confidence, I call it quiet confident," Sanders said, adding that it often offers structure and self-awareness in a safe place.
With so many people keeping an eye on their progress, it can be encouraging for young athletes to have so many eyes on them just dedicated to supporting and enhancing their skills.
"Their development is our job," Moss added, saying as a gym owner she sees a lot of athletes but they all have someone with them as they train.
Structure, confidence, and dedication: are all qualities that can be learned and honed with a pair of gloves in a gym.
Unfortunately, Sanders said, unguided children with talent can fall under harmful influence - and it may impact someone else's child.
"It's unfair to the parents," Sanders said. "Cameron comes from a family unit. The influence is sometimes bigger than what the parents have."
Which is why Sanders and Moss hope to push a different narrative.
"You know how much work (his) family put into him and then to hear," Moss said, choking up slightly. "What happened, happened - but I just couldn't see him as that kind of kid."
Both Moss and Sanders agreed: the 15-year-old was a tremendous athlete.
His character, tenacity, and energy made him good for the sport. He was clever, they said.
"I known from an early age this kid would be something in this sport," Sanders said. "Provided, he made it there."
Sanders stopped mid-sentence, holding back tears. In a moment of vulnerability, Moss and Sanders looked at each other and said the next phase is to truly bring a sense of community beyond the mat and invite more young people into the gym.
Citing programs like "Gloves Over Guns," and other initiatives to bring boxing to at-risk youth - Sanders said it was time to renew those efforts.
"We got to find a way to reinvent it, " he said. "Make it popular."
Moss added that there's community, now there need to be new efforts because Jackson's death isn't the first they've seen in the wake of rising gun violence against youth.
All to help make sure Jackson's death wasn't in vain.
Sanders said though he's dealt with a loss like this before - the news is still fresh to him. He said it's likely nothing compared to what his parents are feeling, but he will be personally missing training with the teen for a few hours a day, six days a week.
"Him being gone is going to be felt," he said.