Outside the Ring: Chicago Youth Boxing Club

By Jill Diamond on January 4, 2015
Outside the Ring: Chicago Youth Boxing Club
“We do a great job in the ring thanks to our coaches, but we want to go beyond the ring.”

A gym like the Chicago Youth Boxing Club can sometimes make the difference between a life on the edge and an edge in life…

Sports and Philanthropy: A series of articles dedicated to those who’ve given their all and still give more. Each article will feature a different community champion; no belts, no medals, no ratings… just good people passing it on.

Sometimes a gym is more than a place where people go to train. In the case of the Chicago Youth Boxing Club it is a safe haven for young people to learn as much about social responsibility as boxing. A gym like this one, recognized for their excellence in inspiring the youth in their area, can sometimes make the difference between a life on the edge and an edge in life. They are the surrogate parents, teachers and guardians of those lucky enough to be embraced by Victor Rodriguez (the executive director) and the CYBC Team. They enforce stern discipline and values in their students and do it in way that seems to stick. With an emphasis on respect, discipline and education, they put their athletes on the road to success, as well as to the Nationals. Their goal is to instill championship character in those who walk through their doors, as well as solid boxing skills. I first read about them when they bused a group of their athletes to a small town in Mexico where they helped build fresh water systems. In between rounds, that’s what their young boxers did on their summer vacation. And they felt lucky to participate. When I visited them in Chicago, I was taken by the enthusiasm and sincerity of everyone involved. I’m very thankful for people like these. They are a guiding light in a dark time, embodying the best attributes of our sport. For those who argue that boxing has no place in a child’s life, they haven’t had the privilege of being in this place, a small gym In a big city, called the Chicago Youth Boxing Club.

What inspired your group to take on this much responsibility?

Our gym is located in little village one of the most populated neighborhoods in the city of Chicago. We are one of the neighborhoods with the least amount of green space. Our children need a place to be after school, a safe place. We want our kids to learn how to box but also we want them to go to college, to be the best citizens they can be. Our commitment is to the children.

What is the philosophy behind the club?

The goal of CYBC is to develop young men and women in and out of the ring. We emphasize discipline, education, health, service and leadership. We believe that not all of our kids will go on to boxing but they will all go on to life, and we want them to be ready.

Tell us about the team? 

We have about 140 active members however only about 25% of them compete in boxing. They all do the rigorous training but some choose not to compete. The one thing most people say about the team and the gym is that it feels like family. “I don’t just train here. I have a great support system.” Many of our team members have been here for four to six years. They not only find some great coaching and training but an awesome support system of friends, coaches, etc. Many of our boxers have become coaches themselves here in the gym.

Your successes?

Besides the great boxers, we have the number one Silver Gloves ranked champion in the nation. We have had Golden Gloves champions, regional champions, Junior Olympics regional champions. The fact that 20 of our kids were able to go to college last year, that was awesome. We were also able to give out our first CYBC academic scholarship to one of our young ladies last year. To see kids who were in considerable risk and trouble be able to get past that and go on to college and to see them succeed, that is as they say priceless.

Your failures or regrets?

To have invested time and effort in some of our kids and then lose them to the streets and to violence. I personally consider that a failure, always wishing we had more to give.

What honors has CYBC received?

We have been featured on CNN for our spirit of giving. Last Christmas day they did a piece on the gym and some of the boxers. We were part of a French documentary that was looking at programs that work in the inner cities. Both the boxing club and individual boxers have been featured on many local and national TV stations, all with the desire to show good programs in the inner cities.

Have any of the members gone pro?

We have a young man Ricardo “Cuñado” Chavez has gone pro and is 5-0. He has been in the gym for the last six years and still trains here.

What would you say to those that say boxing is not beneficial to youngsters?

The short answer is the proof is in the pudding. We have seen firsthand young men who are violent, undisciplined, rowdy, and after three of four months their attitude is totally different, they are disciplined, doing great in school, no more incidents of violence. On the contrary, they are walking away from fights, most of them saying I have nothing to prove. We have also seen people lose weight and get their diabetes under control. Many people worry about hits to the head, concussions etc., but are surprised when they find out that cycling has the most amount of concussions. So what we have seen is boxing is not only beneficial physically, but it also gives a sense of discipline and self-confidence.

What drives you?

We want our children to succeed. We want confident, educated young men and women. Boxing is culturally relevant to the Mexican community, and if boxing is what you want to do we want to give you the best coaches who really care about YOU. We want you to represent yourself, your family and your community in a worthy manner. The success of our kids is what drives not only our coaches and staff but our board as well.

What is a typical day in the gym like?

Kids come in typically right after school, 4:00 pm or so. They start by stretching and then running. In the winter they run in a basketball court that the church that we rent from has on the third floor. In the summer they run around the block under the supervision of our cardio-coach. They move on to shadow boxing, heavy bags, and some do sparring, weight training, and speed bag. Most of the kids work out from one to two hours. But then they stay to hang out and help other kids with hand wraps, technique, or just advice. Some stay to do homework in the office, or do some work in the gym itself, cleaning, sanitizing gloves etc.

What shape are they in when they come in? When they leave?

When kids come in typically they are out of shape (they don’t think so), but they are as far as stamina. Some have a bit of more weight than they want. Many lack self-confidence. Within the span of about three months many of these kids have lost a great amount of weight and they are self-confident, showing off the biceps etc. But to us the most important thing is they have acquired an incredible amount of self-confidence: not only can I box, not only have I lost weight, but I think I can go to college, I can do more than what I thought I could.

Give us a proud moment?

There are too many to write about, but when parents see their children achieve, when they cry together after winning a tough bout or receive an acceptance letter from a college—there are many individual moments like that.

Is there a story you’d like to share?

A young man whom I have known since he was three years old, constantly in trouble, in the home, outside the home, in school, on the streets, a violent young man. To be honest with you, I thought he would be dead by time he turned 13 years old. After we first opened the gym here at our current location, which he helped build by the way, he came by and wanted to see if I would sponsor him. I didn’t think it was wise letting an already violent young man box. But I decided that I would sponsor him and see what happens. Fast forward six months and this same young man is walking away from fights, not getting in trouble, and ranked fourth in the country in amateur boxing at his age and weight. He had a couple of ups and downs but overall he did real well. I was very proud of him when last year he got a full scholarship to Northern Illinois University. He just finished his first year in college and the future looks bright for this young man.

How did the connection with USA and Mexico happen?

This was primarily through the May Foundation. Karen May already had contact with Mexico and heard that they were looking to start a boxing club down there, but nothing ever came of it. With 90% of our kids being of Mexican descent it just made sense to collaborate with them.

What inspired the H2O for Mexico project?

After visiting Tamaula and seeing the lack of water we wanted to help. There are 900 million people around the world in need of water and nearly half of those are children. We wanted to be a part of helping and doing something about it rather than just saying oh that is too bad.

What were the obstacles?

Finances were definitely an obstacle. Some of our kids really wanted to go but their status here made it impossible. Other than that, we just worked with what we had.

How did you handle traveling to a foreign country with all those kids?

We had some awesome chaperones. Parents were a little concerned letting their kids go to Mexico without family but some of these kids had never been to Mexico. Other than your usual things when you travel with teenagers, the traveling itself was very uneventful. The kids were definitely not ready to travel on dirt roads once we got to Tamaula.

Who supported the effort?

The funding came through the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

What did the kids gain from the experience?

They realized how lucky they are, even though they feel like they lack things here when they see how other people live. It impacted them a lot. One of the things we heard often was, “Man we are lucky.” An appreciation for what they have was definitely on their minds.

Is the relationship with the Mexican village still ongoing?

Yes, we still support the boxing club and the water project.

What is your next adventure?

We want to have the smartest boxers in the country so we will be working on a lab with 25 computers, which will enable us to better equip our boxers academically. We already do a great job in the boxing ring thanks to our coaches, but we want to go beyond the ring.

If you could sum up the experience in one word what would it be?


How do you see the future of CYBC?

CYBC is a youth development organization where we use boxing to instill leadership skills, discipline, service, and health consciousness in our kids. We are a bright spot in a neighborhood that is known for many negative things. We are truly a family whose desire is to serve our community by empowering our young men and women. We want some of the best boxers to come out of CYBC, but also the best doctors, lawyers, politicians, teachers and much more.

As for the future, our hope is to develop indigenous leaders, who would build not only themselves physically and mentally, but also men and women who would build communities. We would love to open another location and partner with people and organizations who are interested in building strong young men and women.

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Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Saving Lives In The Ring — CYBC

Inside the Chicago Youth Boxing Club

Perspectivas Latinas - Chicago Youth Boxing Club

Part I: Chicago Youth Boxing Club Youth Leaders Visit Tamaula, Guanajuato

Part II: Chicago Youth Boxing Club Youth Leaders Visit Tamaula, Guanajuato

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  1. Kid Blast 01:03pm, 01/09/2015

    This program evolved from a lot of other Chicano youth programs. I participated actively in the Chicago Park League boxing program and in particular boxed out of Portage Park on the Northwest Side. We had some good teams come out of there. There was also the CYO, PAL, and exhibition fights. Guys from any of these federations could enter the GG as they pretty much wanted to.

    The real tournament that interested the better fighters back then was the AAU from which national champions emerged.

    Thanks Jill for an outstanding interview that jogged up some pleasant memories for me (though growing up in Chicago was not one of them).

  2. Matt McGrain 01:17pm, 01/04/2015

    Great read, thanks

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