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Young Latino boxers fighting for their future

Updated: November 16, 2011 10:59AM

The thing about boxing is that it hurts like hell. Not while you’re doing it, obviously, although if you’re any good the other guy isn’t landing many punches and you walk away mostly intact.

No, I mean when you’re learning how to do it.

Boxing is not for the faint of heart or body. Sure, you might watch a big-money fight on cable and decide you could probably hold your own in the ring. But it takes about 10 minutes of warming up and learning a move or two to figure out that it’s hard, painful work that melts your muscles and leaves you barely able to move the next day.

To get any good at it — which is to say, to get good enough to last even one round against an opponent — takes hours and hours of hard work, sweat, pain, an endless of amount of determination and perseverance — all buoyed by the desire to better yourself.

These are not the kind of attributes usually ascribed to poor, predominantly Latino kids like the ones who will be boxing in the first annual Chicago Youth Boxing Club statewide amateur Power Gloves Tournament Friday and Saturday.

Based in Little Village, the nonprofit after-school boxing club provides quality coaching in boxing and mixed martial arts, along with mentoring, health/nutrition education and work-readiness training for at-risk young people. They’re almost all between 13 and 16, and from all over Chicago, but mostly from neighborhoods such as Back of the Yards and Humboldt Park and towns including Cicero and Berwyn.

The idea is to give these kids structured, rigorous training that will eventually give them the confidence and discipline to face the adversities of their difficult lives and reach life goals such as going to college and embarking on a successful career.

You can imagine that for children like these, with precious few enrichment activities at their disposal and day-to-day survival that might include the threat of violence hanging over their heads, this organization is a haven, a home away from home and a real lifesaver.

That’s true in many ways, but these young athletes go beyond just learning how to hit each other gracefully.

Last year, their leadership project, in conjunction with Erie Neighborhood House and Poder Learning Center, raise more than $10,500 to support the construction of 35 household cisterns to catch rainwater for drinking and cooking in a rural community in Guanajuato, Mexico. Many of the young leaders even got to travel there to assist in installing the cisterns. They also helped set up a boxing gym for the community’s residents — a life-changing bit of service for the kids and the beneficiaries of their hard work.

“For them, being in Mexico allowed them to experience what it’s like to be leaders, and not necessarily to be outsiders,” said Karen May, president of the boxing club. “There were tears all around when we left because they were able to see what they could really do.”

But that was last summer. Right now, 28 young boxers are anxiously awaiting this weekend’s tournament, the organization’s first. It’ll get them in the ring in front of an audience but just as important, the tourney is a fund-raiser designed to bring in some much-needed cash to run all of their programs and pay for day-to-day necessities.

“Gloves,” May told me, “we go through boxing gloves, and other equipment like you wouldn’t believe.” They also need to pay for coaching and materials for their health and nutrition classes.

The USA-boxing sanctioned tournament will be held at La Villita Community Church, 2300 S. Millard, Chicago. Doors open at 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. But even if you can’t make it, go to and buy some tickets — these kids are fighting to keep their second home open.

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