Minneapolis fifth grader Lavendar Nelson won her seventh championship on Friday, December 9 at USA Boxing Nationals in Lubbock, Texas. Credit: Morgan McDonald

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Lavendar Nelson, the 11-year-old boxer from north Minneapolis, knew she had won her seventh national boxing championship even before the referee raised her arm in the center of the ring.

“Our winner, by unanimous decision,” the fight announcer boomed through the arena in Lubbock, Texas. Lavendar began to dance in place in the ring. “In the red corner, Lavendar Nelson!”

Lavendar hugged her opponent, Jaylene Granados, from Avenal, California, and performed a celebratory backflip

She always completes a backflip after she wins, she explained over the phone from Lubbock, less than an hour after the big event. And she knew she won because she had seen the judges’ scorecard.

Video provided by Lavendar’s coach, Morgan McDonald.

For Lavendar, a 121-pound bantamweight who just turned 11, the win represented her seventh national USA Boxing championship. She’d traveled to Texas with her coach, Morgan McDonald, for the competition, after fundraising to cover travel costs. Lavendar’s ultimate goal is to win more championships than her idol, two-time Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields.

The 2022 USA Boxing National Championships began on December 6 and conclude today, with more than 150 matches a day. Boxers of every age, gender, and weight class face off against each other for the title of national champion.

Lavendar, along with her friend Madison McDonald (the coach’s daughter), were representing the after-school boxing program at north Minneapolis’ Lucy Laney Community School. Morgan McDonald, a student support specialist at the school, founded the nonprofit Lucy Laney Boxing Academy in 2019. 

Lavendar Nelson (middle) with her friend Madison McDonald (the coach’s daughter) and her coach Morgan McDonald. Credit: Morgan McDonald

Training takes place in a converted computer lab, which McDonald outfitted with a boxing ring. Donations cover some of the program’s costs; although McDonald pays for many things on personal credit cards. 

The coach created a GoFundMe to cover travel costs for Lavendar’s trip to Lubbock. Four days after Sahan Journal first published a story about the fundraiser, McDonald met his goal.

A few days after Thanksgiving, he sent a text message expressing his gratitude.

“I have never gotten this much help,” he wrote. “We are going, we are working extremely hard to bring home the seventh national championship.”

‘She did a good job with her jab’

One obstacle to the seventh championship: not enough sleep. Lavendar was tired today, because she wasn’t able to take a nap after weighing in at 6 a.m. this morning, McDonald said. She was anxious, too.

She did manage to make a joke to her coach: “I missed weight,” she told him. If she had weighed in at less than 119 or more than 125 pounds, she would have been disqualified before the bout. 

But she was kidding. She weighed in this morning at 121 pounds. And despite her tiredness, she won.

“She did a good job with her jab,” McDonald said. “She did exactly what we worked on.”

Lavendar Nelson poses with her last opponent Jaylene Granados on December 9 at USA Boxing Nationals in Texas. Credit: Morgan McDonald

Lavendar praised her opponent, Jaylene. “She was an excellent fighter,” she said.

The hardest part of the fight? “I wasn’t blocking enough,” Lavendar said. What she did really well? “Feed her with the jab.”

It’s hot in Texas, Lavendar said. But since she arrived Thursday, she has been enjoying watching other matches. Now that she has secured her seventh national championship, she’s looking ahead to fighting next week in St. Cloud for a Silver Gloves competition—like the prestigious Golden Gloves competition, but for kids.

Lavendar’s immediate plans? “Go swimming,” Lavendar said. The champion was looking forward to using the hotel pool.

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Becky Z. Dernbach is the education reporter for Sahan Journal. Becky graduated from Carleton College in 2008, just in time for the economy to crash. She worked many jobs before going into journalism, including...