Boxing photo

Tyler Mays, left, spars with Justin Altwein in a makeshift boxing ring Saturday during a cookout at Mays’ home in Menominee. Mays has combined boxing with barbecues. He says Michigan licensing officials haven’t been helpful.

EagleHerald Staff Writer

MENOMINEE—What do you need for a good cookout? A grill, drinks, burgers, probably some chips, sunny weather, and of course a boxing ring made with pool noodles.

Okay, maybe not everybody’s cookouts feature boxing, but they certainly do for Menominee resident Tyler Mays. It all started in May with him and a group of his friends who decided to try it while cooking out together in Mays’ backyard. “Instead of just sitting in the backyard drinking beer, we did a little physical activity and realized how hard it is to actually do,” he said.

“We knew right away we had to put the fence up, so we put a fence up around the yard so nobody would call the cops saying there’s people fighting,” he said.

He also knew early on that he and his friends would have to put together and sign liability waivers to keep doing it, because even though they knew it was all for fun, something could always go wrong.

Mays said his first cookout had seven attendees, and by the fifth one more than 100 people were attending. “When we got to 100 people, the Menominee Police Department started stopping by. They were making sure we were doing everything legally,” he said.

However, Mays said the city attorney had gotten involved, but wasn’t able to find anything to charge him with. “The city attorney said that we’re not supposed to host boxing events without a license. He couldn’t find anything illegal about what we were doing, so he sent it to the Licensing and Registration Agency (LARA),” he said.

Mays said he was later contacted by LARA, which told him that they would be opening an investigation against him, and he would need to either confirm or deny that he was promoting boxing. “I sent them a letter back saying, ‘I am not promoting boxing, and you have no right to regulate my friends and I sparring in a pool noodle ring.’ I haven’t heard back from them yet, and I’m still holding the events,” he said.

He said they took a break from the cookouts in August and then picked up with another one Saturday.

Mays said he has been in contact with attorneys trying to go about things the right way, but he said instead of getting help steering things in the right direction the people and agencies he’s talked to have tried to scare him out of continuing. “I have a lot of people looking extensively into the laws and what we can or can’t do. If we were promoting it, advertising for it by putting posters up in bars and stuff, then LARA would have to be involved. But we’re not really advertising or charging anyone for it, and licensed amateur and professional fighters are not allowed to participate,” he said.

Mays said most of his correspondence with LARA has been “scare tactics;” he said they had called him at one time asking if he was still doing the cookouts and if so they were coming. “I was told that they would need a warrant, and they can’t just show up. I think they were just trying to scare me out of doing it. People should be able to practice boxing before they go into an amateur match, if they want to go into one,” he said.

“Someone could get hurt at any time. Maybe from that aspect, I can see where they’d have a problem with it, but I think we’ve made a huge impact on this small area,” he said.

And the impact has stretched beyond the small area as well. Mays said there are some friends he has made in doing the cookouts that regularly make drives of up to four hours to make it. “One’s from Wisconsin Dells, and another pair of brothers are from Montello, Wisconsin,” he said.

Mays said the incorporation of sparring at these cookouts has helped a lot of people quit unhealthy habits or deal with heavy stress and get them into shape. He said a friend of his recently had a relative pass away, and has been using the cookout sparring matches as a healthy way to get his aggression out. Mays himself said that he was able to quit smoking because of the cookouts. “It’s the best core cardio you’ll ever do. I quit smoking cigarettes and started jogging because of it, and a lot of other people have the same mentality of ‘I want to get better,’” he said.

And Mays said nothing ever gets out of hand. He said they use bigger gloves than what amateur or professional fighters use, which softens the blows and makes it harder for someone to get hurt. He also said everyone who has participated is incredibly respectful of their sparring partners. “Everyone hugs or shakes hands afterwards; it’s basically just a training session,” he said.

Anyone who participates in the sparring has to sign a liability waiver before they’re allowed to participate. Mays also said LARA requires that a doctor be present in the crowd, even if events like his aren’t regulated by them, as well as a 24-hour insurance policy. But Mays said the way “doctor” is defined in LARA’s requirement is somewhat open-ended legally. “A lawyer told me that you could have a counselor there the way it was written. The point of it is to have a doctor there to stop the fight and use the insurance,” he said.

Mays said he has been able to secure a paramedic to come to the cookouts to fill that role, but is still looking for a good 24-hour insurance policy to make sure the fighters are covered in case an accident does happen. “Nobody wants to get in trouble, and we’re trying to do things the right way. I would’ve figured LARA would’ve helped me with that, but they haven’t,” he said.

Mays said he’s dedicated to seeing this through to the end so that other average people who want to do something similar know how to do it the right way. “It gets crazy, it’s all kind of a secret,” he said.

Mays said he might hold an official amateur match at some point in the future, and would certainly go through LARA to do it, but that’s not the intention right now. “My plan is to keep doing it, but we’ll probably take a break for the winter months. We had a gym that we could’ve gone to, but then we’ve got LARA getting involved again because that’s an actual gym. I guarantee you nobody’s going to stop training,” he said.

Mays said there may be one more before the end of this year Oct. 9, but anytime after then will likely be too cold. There’s not a set date for the first one of next year, but once grilling weather rolls around again he said they’ll pick back up.