Brijhana Epperson is accustomed to being the only girl in the boxing ring. The 12-year-old spars with boys most of the time, and is often the best female boxer in her age group.
But she doesn’t want it to stay that way.
In fact, Epperson and her father/coach, Courtney Epperson, are actively working to get more girls into boxing in the Kansas City area. Throughout the month of June, the father-daughter duo and her trainer partner Moragen Ferrell have volunteered at WIN for KC, a local nonprofit dedicated to empowering women and girls through sports. WIN for KC stages camps for girls in the KC area, and the Eppersons and Ferrell volunteered four days a week during June to provide some boxing training.
“We saw an opportunity to reach and teach boxing basics and to even draw some attention to boxing,” Courtney Epperson said. “We’re visiting each area school just about. By the end of June, early July, we have we will have reached close to 800 girls. So through that already we’ve got interests for the girls to come in.”
While young girls’ interest in boxing has increased a little over the years, it’s still not as popular among girls as it is among boys.
“I think not a whole lot of girls get into boxing because they’re not confident enough,” Brijhana Epperson said. “Once you get into boxing, it just opens up your personality. You see another side of you that you’ve never seen before, you get confident — I know my confidence grew a lot more when I started boxing.”
Her confidence has grown, but not her ego. It was a shock for her when girls came up to her at the WIN For KC camp asking for autographs. She obliged, but her favorite part of volunteering was seeing other girls enjoy the sport she loves.
“I want other girls to learn how to do this and just to be a part of it because boxing just needs a lot more girls,” she said. “So just seeing new girls just learning that, and actually liking it is very energizing, it’s very motivating.”
Courtney Epperson believes that summer camps like WIN for KC’s Camp WIN represent the sort of grassroots efforts that will help grow the game for girls. He hopes that one day youth boxing here won’t be as underground as it is now.
It wasn’t always the plan for Brijhana to become a boxer, or to reach the level of success she’s earned. She won the national title at the 2019 Junior Olympics and was a national champ with USA Boxing this year. She won silver at the Junior Olympics last week in Lubbock, Texas, and Courtney said she’s already counting down the days until December’s national tournament.
Brijhana Epperson speaks with a maturity that makes you forget she’s 12, and she throws the sort of punches that make you forget it, too. Just four years into her training, she already dominates the girls boxing scene locally.
“On the way (to matches), I’m like a little nervous, a little jittery,” She admitted. “And then when I get there, I put the gloves on and then I’m just like, immediately, this is where I belong. I know what I’m supposed to do, I know what I feel, and it’s just natural for me.”
But how did an 8 year old Brijhana Epperson start boxing? According to her dad, he started teaching her self-defense after he learned she had a “mean steak,” as he put it. In a park one day, the father said, she saw some kids teasing a younger boy. She took it upon herself to get between them and let them know that “nobody messing with him unless you mess with me.”
Courtney Epperson said he told his daughter that if she was going to put herself in those situations, she needed to know how to defend herself.
“When I started her self-defense at home, it just clicked for her and it just kept just kept growing, exponentially,” he said. “She kept going, kept getting more interesting and then one day, boom, she goes, ‘Can we go spar somebody else?’ From that day … she’s never turned back.”
But there’s another side to Brijhana Epperson, too: ballet.
She was a dancer before she was a boxer, and she has kept up with that, too. She said ballet is an outlet for her, something she can do to release her emotions and express herself. She even has a shirt with “The Boxing Ballerina” printed across the back, giving an added layer of meaning to “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”
She doesn’t plan on giving up either passion any time soon, hoping one day to open her own gym. She wants one side dedicated to boxing, the other a dance studio for ballet. Her life is surrounded by both boxing and ballet, and she’s excited to one day introduce other young girls to the two sports she loves.
“It means the world, because it shows me that she’s projecting and setting goals,” Courtney Epperson said of his daughter’s ambitions. “We talk about it all the time and it never really changes, her passion for it never changes. She doesn’t lose interest … She’s like, ‘That’s what I said I wanted to do, and that’s what I want to do,’ so I’m happy. ...
“She has the mindset where she wants to reach in places where girls, or boys, but mainly girls, may not know that it’s possible.”