Dec 06, 2012

Boxing Program Builds Warriors


By Kaleigh Schneider
For Reporting Texas

Though Aiyana Ramos, 13, says her friends were surprised to learn she’s taken up boxing, she enjoys throwing punches alongside dozens of other youth in her class at the Dove Springs Recreation Center in East Austin.

“I’ve been more athletic and healthy since I started boxing. I don’t eat fast food anymore,” she said.

The Southside Warrior Boxing program is the brainchild of Delores Moreno, founder and head coach of the program, who understands the challenges at-risk communities face. She also knows the powerful impact that boxing can have on young people.

As a teenager in East Austin, Moreno dropped out of high school and struggled with alcoholism and other self-destructive behavior. Concerned family members sent her to the gym, where she discovered boxing.

“It’s not just about fighting and hitting,” said Moreno, 35. “It’s about bringing up your confidence, self-esteem, discipline and dedication. I didn’t have any of that before I started boxing.”

She organized the free boxing class in April after a local teen was shot to death. The class aims to keep kids off the street, build self-confidence through physical activity, and provide the tools and support for a positive, healthy lifestyle.

Rudy Flores, 9, has been taking the class for about a month and said it is paying off. “I’m dropping down a couple of pounds, and I’m building up more confidence,” he said. His father, Mickey Rey Flores, said he has noticed a difference in his son’s behavior.

“He’s come a long way. I feel as if it’s teaching him discipline and building his self-esteem,” Flores said.

Research shows that youth development programs like Warrior Boxing often provide adolescents with more than just exercise and entertainment, said Cynthia Franklin, a professor in mental health in the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin. Franklin, who isn’t associated with Warrior Boxing, said it and similar programs provide opportunities for educational, psychological and social development, all of which give at-risk kids an advantage in school, work and other activities.

A program’s location is another component of its success. Franklin said the highest at-risk group is young Latinas, of whom there are plenty in Central Texas and in East Austin. In that respect, the Dove Springs program seems is well situated.In less than eight months, enrollment in boxing class had grown from nine to around 70. A third are girls.

Franklin said another benefit of youth development programs is that they can help prevent members from facing more serious issues in the future.

Flores said children in her neighborhood need something to do and people to admire. “They have role models and somebody they can look up to, and they have an outlet rather than turning to the streets or to drugs,” he said.

Aiyana Ramos has come to see the gym as more than exercise and instructors. “They’re like a second family,” she said. “They look out for you and they care.”

Mary Baswell contributed reporting to this article.