Many people got to watch an ESPN special broadcast last week, featuring Frankie, Ember and Donna Kipp and the Blackfeet Nation Boxing Club. The film, titled “Blackfeet Boxing: Not Invisible,” took the remote reservation program built by the Kipps and friends and brought their story to a national audience.
“They left some things out to make room for commercials,” Frankie said of the show, “but we’ve been hit with a surge of donations so we can buy our 501(c)(3) with the money that’s coming in.”
In addition to the Blackfeet Nation Boxing Club’s Facebook page, the Kipps have also started a GoFundMe page where they have set a goal of raising $25,000.
“That will take the kids to meets this season, with our own fund raising and help from the Tribe,” Kipp said, “but we also have a dilapidated building. People help me out and work for free, but I’d like to be able to pay them. Last year we had a storage shed, and after our awards ceremony it collapsed from the snow so we lost all our gear and uniforms. We had to start over, and we can’t get to it until the weather changes.”
Frankie related how things began in 2002 when Carl McLean asked him to sponsor a boxing club. “In the beginning, he asked me because his son was getting old enough to box. I didn’t want to at first, but I said okay and got the warehouse.”
The new club found itself located in an old warehouse that stands in back of what used to be the Tribal Court and next to St. Michael’s Cemetery. “We finished in November. Dad and I and Carl built the club area, and as soon as the doors opened we had 50 or 60 kids there. We had to turn some away.”
The Tribe gave the warehouse to Frankie, as well as one of two storage sheds. McLean had another shed, which he gave to Frankie. He turned that building into clothing warehouse, making the complex into a community center.
The clothing warehouse became an important part of the boxing club.
“The most humbling thing I saw was when a little girl came in with her siblings; they were watching when we first opened and I said what do you need? She said she wanted school clothes for herself and her brothers and sisters. They all walked out with big bags, and I thought, our kids get new clothes and these are getting castoffs and they are so happy and thankful…There’s always something about how they walk. I grew up with six brothers and sisters and we struggled with school clothes. Kids came in for everything. I saw the need so then we started feeding kids. The schools gave us leftovers to feed them at night, and I want to get back to that. We’re lucky to have such a good school now.”
The services came to a halt when the Tribe reclaimed the storage shed and gave to Blackfeet Housing.
While Frankie and his family have always worked to raise funds for the program and volunteered their time to build and coach, old injuries have left Frankie with traumatic brain injury, which impacted his interviews for ESPN.
“This TBI is the hardest thing,” he said. “I had to act normal around people. I forget a lot and I have headaches sometimes. This year was very hard…especially with strangers. My wife, Ember, is the power behind me.”
Frankie’s dream is to have a new facility where kids can find a safe place to learn and grow together. His GoFundMe page is his latest effort to turn his program into something permanent.
In addition, ESPN has promised to send Frank and Ember a link to “Blackfeet Boxing: Not Invisible” that they can share with their friends and followers. Look for the link in the near future on the Blackfeet Nation Boxing Club Facebook page.