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Boxing Gym Tucked Inside a Little Village Church Basement Aims to Provide Support and Encouragement

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The Chicago Youth Boxing Club hosts an amateur tournament.  (WTTW News)The Chicago Youth Boxing Club hosts an amateur tournament. (WTTW News)

A boxing gym in the basement of a Little Village church is on a mission to provide new opportunities for neighborhood kids.

On a recent Friday night, Gabriel Navarro hosted an amateur boxing tournament.

“I love seeing the kids with their trophies and belts, and I love the smiles on their faces,” said Narravo, a former professional boxer and head coach at Youth Boxing Club of Chicago. “I like to teach what I have learned. Half of my trainers used to be fighters here and now they are trainers.

During the week, the gym is packed. Students like Elizabeth Rodriguez come after school.

“What I love about being here is that when you come here it feels like family,” Rodriguez said. “You support each other in sparring. You can vent your anger, it’s a stress reliever.

Most of the young people who participate in the program are from the Little Village neighborhood. Brandon Hirales, 15, says he’s lost 80 pounds since he joined the boxing club.

“I was often bullied and I didn’t like it. I also felt like I couldn’t do other things that people could do, so I decided to come back here and lose all the weight,” Hirales said.

Narravo says the program focuses on giving kids confidence in and out of the ring.

“He would never step into the ring like he did a year ago,” said Navarro. “He said he would never want to do that, he’s too fat. And I told him he could…and look at him now.”

The Chicago Youth Boxing Club began in 2006 as a haven for young people looking for a positive outlet. Raul Alcalá participated in the program as a child and now coaches others.

“It gave me a different outlet because I grew up on the streets,” said Alcalá. “I had friends who were in gangs, friends who did bad things, friends who did good things. So, it was up to me to choose and this boxing has helped me guide myself.

The boxing club is located in the basement of the La Villita community church. Noah Pickens is the new executive director and he says he has big plans for the boxing center.

“We have a really big focus on boxing, but we also have a piece of our programming that is about nutrition and health, and on the third side, it’s more about academic success and personal growth,” Pickens said.

The team is preparing to revamp programming beyond the ring. Mentor Alexis Uribe is running a mentorship program called “Si se Puede”.

“The vision is to help everyone in the community,” Uribe said. “Whether it’s through academic support, social-emotional support, or simply providing a space for young people to be here.”

Whether it’s an uppercut or a hook, some compete in tournaments in hopes of being good enough to turn pro.

“A lot of them come in and are nationally ranked or hope to be nationally ranked,” Uribe said. “All of that opens the door to the possibility of what someone might want to do or something else.”


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Written by Natalia Chi

Chicago Popular; Chicago breaking news, weather and live video. Covering local politics, health, traffic and sports for Chicago, the suburbs and northwest Indiana.

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