Giving boys a chance

20 April 2013
Written by Sacha Kenny | Images by Sacha Kenny
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On a mission to turn troubled boys into honourable champion men, Billy Graham from the Naenae Boxing Academy chats to Sacha Kenny about his journey  

There are many stories that could be told about Billy Graham; bad boy done good, New Zealand and Australian light welterweight boxing champion, international motivational speaker and author.  But it is the story of the Naenae Boxing Academy, nationally recognised for positively changing the lives of troubled boys, that has formed the narrative of Billy’s life for the last decade.

Naenae, a suburb in the Hutt Valley, north of Wellington, is well known as one of New Zealand’s many towns struggling to keep its head above water and its youth out of trouble. It is also Billy Graham’s home town.

Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Billy had a tough childhood. Constantly in trouble he was never far from the law until he found boxing and his mentor, legendary NZ coach Dick Dunn. Dunn, with gentle words, patience and a listening ear changed the course of Billy’s life from 'fast road to nowhere' to that of a proud man destined to help boys not unlike himself.

Having achieved professional success in a number of different fields, in 2006 Billy fulfilled his lifelong dream to run his own boxing gym and - after he and wife Kerri sold their family home - opened the Naenae Boxing Academy.

The boys in the gym are often sent there by the police, social welfare or families who don’t know what to do with them. Boxing, however, is only part of the story - the real objective here, as the title to Billy’s second book trumpets, is Making Champion Men.

As the prologue to Making Champion Men states: 

“Young men’s lives are changed here [the gym].  Boys have entered with nothing: hungry, no self-belief, little hope. But they have left as confident young men looking forward to the future."

Using his skills as a boxer, Billy teaches the boys the rules of life: “Our goal with the kids is not to turn them into professional boxers. It’s to get them to use the same principles that relate to success in boxing and apply them to life. Learn the rules, follow them and you’ll succeed."

“Our responsibility is to teach them that they don’t have to swear to be tough. They don’t have to beat someone up to be better than them. They don’t have to raise their voice to be heard. We teach them that in life if you do what is right you’ll think you’re a winner and people who think they are winners - win.”

Within the academy the boys are treated with respect and must treat each other in the same way. On entering the gym they must welcome each other, look their peers in the eye when talking and, upon leaving, shake the hand of at least 10 other boys.  The gym is a no-swearing, no-shouting, no-bullying zone - there is a set of rules and, no exceptions, you break the rules you’re out.

The boys are also given a Passport to Success, teaching them key points to succeed in life (listed below) - which if they memorise warrants them free membership for life.

And the results speak volumes - the local crime rate is down 35 percent from what it was prior to 2006.  There are 73 boys registered with the gym and 62 on the waiting list. A feasibility study is under way, analysing the possibility of replicating the success of the gym throughout the country. And the boys themselves are the proud end result.

The Naenae Boxing Academy is making champion men and they plan to go on doing so for generations to come.

  • Naenae Boxing Academy Passport to Success (courtesy of NZ Foundation for Character Education Inc.,
    * Responsibility: Willingness to be answerable, to be trustworthy and accountable for your own conduct and behaviour.
    Compassion: Willingness to help, empathise with, or show mercy to those who suffer.
    Consideration: Willingness to be kind, thoughtful and to consider the interest of others before self.
    Kindness: Willingness to help, show concern for and be friendly to others.
    * Duty: Willingness to do what is right or what a person ought to do; obligation.
    Obedience: Willingness to obey rightful authority.
    Honesty and Truthfulness: Willingness not to steal, cheat, lie or be unfair


Naenae Boxing Academy:
Crn Treadwell and Sladden Streets,
Naenae, Wellington, New Zealand
Ph: 04 527 4227

Billy Graham | Master Motivator:
Team Billy, New Zealand
Ph: +64 4 527 4227
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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