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Study: Chicago sports program cut violent crime, boosted school attendance

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Updated: August 15, 2012 6:04AM



Arrests for violent crime plunged and school attendance improved among troubled Chicago teenagers in a program that combines counseling with Olympic sports like archery and judo, according to a University of Chicago study released Friday.

“We saw almost miraculous change in violent-crime arrest rates,” said Jens Ludwig, director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, noting that they fell 44 percent among the participants.

About 800 Chicago Public Schools students took part in the program, called “Becoming A Man — Sports Edition.”

The students — seventh- to 10th-graders — were from 18 schools mostly on the West Side and the South Side. They were compared to a control group of kids who didn’t receive any extra services beyond what Chicago’s schools normally offer.

On average, the students in B.A.M. spent a total of 13 hours in the program.

Most of the teens in the study had arrest records, had missed more than six weeks of school in the prior year and had a D+ average. The University of Chicago Crime Lab tracked the students over the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years.

“The intervention got them re-engaged with school,” said Ludwig. “They were passing their classes, showing up to school, trying to do the work and mouthing off less often.”

And the drop in violent crime seemed to continue after the students left the program, the study showed.

“In the year after the program, participants experienced a 53 percent reduction in the likelihood of enrolling in a school within a juvenile-justice setting, compared to their control group counterparts,” according to the study.

Ludwig said the program costs about $1,100 per student, but he estimated the benefit to society because of the reduction of criminal behavior is worth at least $3,600 per student.

Based on the success of the B.A.M. program, the MacArthur Foundation agreed to support a follow-up study that will offer tutoring in addition to counseling and sports, Ludwig said.

The program is a joint venture between Youth Guidance, a private organization that’s counseled at-risk Chicago students since the 1960s, and World Sports Chicago, whose mission is to expose kids to Olympic sports.

Tony Di Vittorio founded the Becoming A Man program after he was assigned to work at Clemente High School as a counselor in 1999. Di Vittorio, an employee of Youth Guidance, said he noticed many of the male students’ anger-management skills were poor.

“There was cursing and violence in the hallways,” he said. “I was blown away by that.”

He began asking those boys to form a circle and talk about anger, respect and other issues.

“I was getting all the angry boys,” he said. “Well, I had practiced mixed martial arts for 25 years, so after school we did an MMA program. I was encouraging my BAM boys to stay after school. They were hooked.”

Di Vittorio said Becoming A Man is a “character-development program, not an academic program, per se.”

One of his star participants was Vincent Rosado, who attended Clemente in the mid-2000s.

“He came from every risk factor imaginable,” Di Vittorio said. “He witnessed drug dealing, a [relative] was a major gang member. As a freshman he had all the ambition and potential you could imagine, but he had a self-destructive edge to him.”

Rosado got kicked off the freshman baseball team, Di Vittorio recalls. Then, he started participating in Becoming A Man and gravitated to its martial-arts training.

“He graduated at age 17, went to college and now he works in CPS as a teacher,” Di Vittorio said. “He’s one of our great success stories.”

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