Dozens of west side kids - mostly boys - practiced their boxing form on a recent weekday afternoon. They’re throwing uppercuts and jabs at punching bags in a driveway at the corner of Buena Vista and North Jacinto.
None may be Rocky Balboa yet, but each punch improves the student’s fitness, focus, and self-confidence.
"It's really about one, stabilizing them; and number two, inspiring them,” says Jason Mata, the director of the Advocates Youth Boxing Program in Prospect Hill.
He knows these kids need inspiration. That's why his dad, Charlie Mata, started the Youth Boxing program here in 1999 to build young bodies and stop chronic bullying.
"Kids do come here that are being bullied, for whatever reason,” he says, “and that starts a mental disorder - feeling bad about themselves, looking at themselves in the mirror, and they say 'Hey, am I really what they say I am?' And that's not healthy for anybody."
The boys rotate between physical exercises, boxing drills and individual coaching by Mata and another adult coach.
Healthy living is a challenge on the west side. Obesity, teen pregnancy, and dropout rates are high. Mata says his after-school boxing program helps address all of those issues, at least in part by teaching kids to float, jump rope, and jab in a boxing ring.
"We don't encourage fighting,” he says, “but we do encourage kids sticking up for themselves."
The program is voluntary and costs only $20 per month, but the students have to pledge to stay in school and stay away from street fights. Jason's dad was a Golden Gloves Champion, a hero of the west side who believed in the art and athleticism of boxing; his son does as well.
"When you make it the art of it, like it's an art, really? And they're out there being artful about it, not being brutal about it, that’s an accomplishment already because they can use it for life, too."
“This program is something that he looks forward to every day on a daily basis,” says Margaret Hunter, an area mom whose son has been involved for most of the year. “Seeing that glimmer in his eye again, it's great."
The boxing program’s finances are not so great. Mata admits he's struggled, even shutting down the 501C-3 program more than once. But with the help of a few major donors, he's still in the ring. With hopes to expand one day.
“Really, we need a way bigger facility than this."
Mata estimates at least 15-hundred kids have learned to bob and weave in his neighborhood boxing classes, and he's ready for the next 15-hundred. That's why he's just one of the people who make San Antonio great!
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