Police seek to start local boxing program
By Jesse Phelps
In an effort to provide activities
for at-risk youth and to bridge the gap between Latino teens
and white kids, the Ojai Sheriff's Department is looking into
the possibility of installing a youth boxing program in the valley.
The program would be part of the Police Activities League (P.A.L.),
which allows kids ages 8 through 17, for a nominal fee, opportunities
to get into things like sports, bike and motorcycle riding and
cheerleading. P.A.L. is based in the Oak View Community Center.
Police chief Gary Pentis said that the boxing program would be
based at the Boyd Center downtown.
"We can put the program together," said Pentis. "We
have some financial resources, we have talent resources for coaching
and we have the commitment to make it work."
Grants would pay for a ring and punching bags to be set up in
a spare room at the Boyd Center and three officers with various
levels of boxing and sparring experience have signed on to oversee
He assured the community that safety would be the name of the
game. Pentis said that all the gloves would be thickly padded,
headgear would be required and insurance is available at low
cost for PAL boxing programs. And officers would be there to
watch everything and coach.
Pentis said the program, which aims to integrate at-risk youth
into community activities, could be particularly helpful for
the Latino population. "They are usually not well connected
with local law enforcement," he said. "Of any group,
they're probably the most disenfranchised."
The idea is that boxing would appeal to something that the Latino
youth population feels passionate about. "Latino kids in
general seem to be pretty involved in boxing programs. It's one
of their interests," said Pentis. "There are a lot
of Latino heroes that are boxers."
Pentis is concerned that gang activity around the valley is on
the rise, saying he knows of "seven or eight new members
(of Old School Latinos - OSL) that have recently left Matilija,
going into high school age."
Gang-related crime, he said, is more prevalent, but the boxing
program could help bridge the gap between potential gangsters
and law enforcement officials. "Our assaults that are gang-related
are up. (The boxing program) provides an opportunity, with the
sheriff's department boxer or coordinator running the program,
(the kids) get see the (officer) as a human being. They get to
build a relationship and there's an opportunity for some mentoring
The benefits could go beyond cleaning up the streets, too. Pentis
points out that being involved in sports gives the kids some
pride and some physical benefit. "It gives them some conditioning,
it gives them a focus, something very productive to do,"
he said. "It's about sportsmanship and competition. It's
about the team. The thing is that you're actually putting a better
character system in play and it's great way to channel that energy."
It is notable that PAL boxers have frequently gone on to bigger
and better things, frequently fashioning professional careers.
Similar programs exist in many cities around California and the
nation. And they have been successful in all types of communities.
Jill Showalter, the executive director of Westside PAL in Beaverton,
OR, a suburb of Portland, said her community has seen a great
"It's been one of our most awesome programs that we've started
out," she said, adding that it's preferable to run the program
as opposed to sending youth to neighboring cities. "There's
a great sense of ownership, running it through our own facility.
The other pivotal point is having a dedicated coach. We've been
real fortunate to have a die-hard volunteer coach."
Showalter said the program has been a boon in reaching out to
minority youth. "Our youth center sits in a very diverse
community," she said. "We service about 70 percent
Latino kids. We service that community by having bilingual, bicultural
staff and we also translate much of our written materials into
Spanish, everything from our applications for participation to
Showalter said PAL boxing has caught on like wildfire, partially
because it's a unique program. "What we found is that once
you get a handful of people, you get word of mouth and it spreads
rapidly. In our boxing program, I'd say it's 90 percent Hispanic
males. It's a sport that speaks to their culture. And boxing
isn't offered by a lot of other agencies."
PAL boxers compete not only locally but they take field trips
and fight for community and individual pride against boxing teams
from other locales. Individuals can advance as far as their talent
and desire take them, but PAL boxing promoters point to the team
concept as the primary benefit.
Oxnard is one neighboring municipality with a successful PAL
boxing program and this weekend will host the California State
Championships. Nearly 150 kids from throughout the state will
compete. Winners will go on to fight at the nationals, which
will take place this year in Toledo, Ohio.
It's exciting to think, said Pentis, that some of Ojai's at-risk
youth could soon be competing on a national stage. But the benefits
can start more immediately and on a much more local scale. "If
your building those relationships, then the kids have much less
chance to join gangs, be running on the street and getting involved
with vandalism and thefts," he said. "It's something
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