Yesterday, we told you about the Feed Store of God Cowboy Church, where police are investigating possible animal cruelty charges relating to dead livestock, and introduced you to its pastor, James Hatley Jr. We're still awaiting more information about the investigation, but the name Hatley rang a bell for Wilonsky, and late last night he figured out why.
Turns out James Hatley is the uncle of two local boxers who were the subject of Chris Howell's documentary Sweet Science, which was nearly a decade in the making -- seven years of filming and two and a half years of editing. Robert was a big fan of the film when it screened at the Dallas International Film Festival last year. Howell won't confirm or deny HBO's interest in distributing the film.
Back in 2005, then Observer-er Paul Kix wrote a feature about the family as well: Greg Hatley Sr., who trained his two young sons; Charlie, then 19; and Greg Jr., his older brother, nicknamed "Rabbit." Greg Sr., a former Dallas firefighter, converted his garage into a boxing gym, where he trained his sons and a number of other neighborhood boys.
In 2001, Hatley's makeshift gym caught the attention of Todd Wagner, Mark Cuban's former partner in Broadcast.com, who provided money for the real thing. Oak Cliff Boxing Gym opened in Lancaster that year with a reported budget of $250,000 annually. But in '05, for reasons that are disputed by all the parties involved, Wagner quit funding the Oak Cliff Boxing Club. At the same time, the feed store run by Greg and James Hatley's father, James Sr., was forced to shut down because of James Sr.'s health problems. The young boxers started practicing in the abandoned feed store -- the very same one we visited Tuesday.
Kix's story makes it clear that the club in all its forms doubled as a second home for a lot of Oak Cliff kids who didn't have much family support; he focused on one promising but troubled fighter, Dominic, who ultimately committed suicide at home in the Pinks, a housing project. Devastated by his death, Hatley's younger son Charlie temporarily quit fighting, until his father was able to persuade him to return.
Hatley's own family, though, seemed to be thriving: In 2007, Charlie (whose boxing nickname is "The Future") won the National Amateur Welterweight Championship, and in 2008, the final year of filming on the documentary, he was an Olympic alternate. His record is 14-0, with 11 KOs. Greg Jr. has a record of 3-1, with 3 KOs.
But more recently, the younger Hatley brothers haven't fared very well. Boxing Scene reported that they were arrested in St. Francis County, Arkansas, in March of this year, when police conducting a traffic stop found 23 bags of pot in a boxing heavybag in their car, with what the authorities said was an estimated $200,000 street value. Apparently, they'd been trying to sell the weed in Mississippi -- unsuccessful, they were heading back to Texas when they were caught.
The men were released on a $25,000 bond. There doesn't seem to have been much public activity from the Hatleys since then. The promotional company partially owned by Greg Hatley, Black Gloves Promotions, still has a website, though no upcoming events are currently scheduled -- just a note that says more details are "coming soon." (Greg Hatley didn't immediately return a phone call asking for comment.)
After what's obviously been a hard few years, the animal cruelty allegations probably feel like another blow for a family that's already felt its share.