Amidst a rough childhood, Josh and Jessee Mook found solace through boxing and are now helping their adopted father pay it forward at North Hills boxing gym.

By: Tyler Polk

Jack Mook, 48, a boxing coach, military veteran and former police officer in the City of Pittsburgh for 25 years believes, “a child should be a child, not a survivor.”

After years of training and sparring around Pittsburgh, Jack was asked by George “Geo” Heinlein and Doug Seskey, two coaches at the Steel City Boxing Gym in Spring Hill to teach underprivileged youth how to box.

“They believed I knew how to communicate with kids,” said Mook. “They saw me as an asset to the gym”.

In 2008, Mook met two young Northsiders, Josh and Jessee. The two brothers had been moving in and out of homes throughout Northview Heights and Spring Hill, living with different family members and legal guardians every month. They discovered a sanctuary at Steel City Boxing.

“Those two hours a day kept [us] out of a lot of trouble,” said Josh. “I knew I could go there and forget about everything else.”

Mook took the boys under his wing, began honing Josh’s natural potential for boxing and a bond was forged between the trio.

“He had a natural talent and he had a movement that would work in the ring,” said Jack. “He’s a technician in the ring, intelligent in the ring and sets up his counter punches well.”

One day, the two stopped showing up at Steel City Boxing.

Steel City Boxing gym’s motto is painted on the wall. Photo by Neil Strebig

“One week turned into two and then three, I got worried,” said Jack. “Josh was dedicated. It was concerning”.

Mook used his connections from around the city to find out what happened to the two brothers.

According to a September 2014 story by the Tribune-Review, the boys’ biological parents suffered from drug addictions, the two were in and out of foster homes and after one of their guardians was arrested, Mook decided to intervene.

In 2013, Mook became the brothers’ foster parent. In 2014, he officially adopted the pair, a story that gathered national attention and is reportedly in the works for a movie deal.

His belief that a “child should be a child, not a survivor,” was a strong contributor towards his adoption of Josh and Jessee.

“I was trying to get Jack’s involvement all along,” said Josh. “I’m glad to be part of a regular family, a regular life.”

With a stable home life, the Mook brothers were finally able to live as children, not just survivors.

Jessee, now 15, began focusing on school more, he’s routinely receiving As and Bs on report cards. He even won the Golden Gloves tournament in his first chance.

Josh, now 18, has won four consecutive Golden Gloves tournaments, proving Jack’s theories of good home life, nutrition, and a feeling of security can do wonders for a child.

Formerly of Brighton Heights, the Mook family now resides in Ross Township where the now-retired Jack Mook, opened Jack’s Boxing Gym. The North Hills gym may boast the most wins of any Western Pennsylvania boxing gym, but it is the family component that makes the gym special. Jack, Josh and Jack’s wife, Mary all work as trainers at the facility.

“Some of these kids getting their first wins gave me the same feeling when I got mine,” said Josh. “I brought myself back to the basics and now I see everything he taught me.”

His sparring partner, Brody White, 16, enjoys training and learning from them.

Josh Mook coaching Brody White through a boxing drill. Photo by Ty Polk.

“I became best friends with him through boxing,” said White. “It’s awesome coming to work out with him every day and learn from him and Jack.”

These words make Jack proud. For him finally seeing Josh understand and sharing the science of boxing is priceless.

“It’s awesome he’s getting this. I learned from pros, that told me what I needed to continue,” said Jack. “It feels like it’s God’s plan.”

Josh’s next fight is a rematch against Jerome Baxter, who won this year’s Golden Gloves tournament, defeating Josh by referee stoppage in the second round.

Josh says the defeat was more of a mental block from Baxter.

“He was the first person to make me quit in the ring,” said Josh. “But, it made me the best boxer I’ve ever been. It’s changed the way I look at fighting and coaching.”

Josh will have a chance to avenge his loss on Friday, May 25 during the Pro-Am Boxing Night event at The Grand Hall in The Priory. The three round, 152lb bout will be Josh’s final fight before he leaves for basic training with the Army in July.

Michael Manna, an assistant coach at Jack’s Boxing Gym, says he’ll be sad to see him go.

“I’m going to miss him. It will suck to see him go,” said Manna.

Josh plans on becoming a cavalry scout in the service but says he isn’t finished with boxing quite yet. His goal is to compete for the U.S. Army boxing team and win gold at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

“I’ve had this idea of joining the military since I was 6 years old,” said Josh. “I was inspired by Geo [Heinlein], who was a Marine, but joining the Army like Jack, was the best decision.”

Josh is also thinking of turning pro after he competes in the Olympics.

What’s his father think?

“Wherever they want to go, I’ll help them along the way,” said Jack. “They will be successful”.