Blood, Sweat, and Good Grades: How a boxing gym is helping kids knock down barriers

10 November 2015

The South Salt Lake Police Activities/Athletics League is unlike any boxing gym you’ve ever seen. The brightly lit facility and colorful paintings are only matched by the excited sound of the bantam-sized pugilists circling the gym space.

On any given day, South Salt Lake PAL is filled with upwards of thirty eager children from schools within the South Salt Lake region, ready to challenge themselves. The Director of PAL, Officer Jerry Silva sports a serious six o’clock shadow, but his eyes crinkle at the edges when he smiles.

"These kids know that they can always come here and, once they hit the doors, it's a safe haven." For parents looking for an after school program that their little ones will love, South Salt Lake PAL may offer exactly what they need.

When three o’clock rolls around, kids are bursting through the steel-plated doors and lacing up their shoes to begin a light jog. Increasing blood flow and loosening muscles are key factors in keeping kids injury-free and that is one of the ways South Salt Lake PAL ensures the health of their athletes. Kids can be found scattered throughout the gym, striking heavy bags and dodging speed bags, working on both strength and reaction.

“This program teaches kids to be smart,” says Officer Silva, “they are looking not only one, but two or three moves ahead—and that goes for both boxing and their lives outside the gym.”

In fact, the South Salt Lake PAL program is about more than good sportsmanship. Although the athletic part is all about boxing, the gym also offers children mentorship, coaching, and tutoring that allows them to gain confidence and develop physically and mentally. This other part of the program is also important, because it stresses schoolwork and responsibility

Parents will be happy to hear the first thing children do when they arrive at the gym is spend an hour focusing on homework. After completing their work for school, children have a meal and then transition into their afternoon activities. Officer Silva stresses the importance of proper nutrition. “Without it, kids can’t perform—they can’t learn or grow,” and Silva says he’s even sent food home for dinner with children before.

Coaches at South Salt Lake PAL use boxing as a way to teach children discipline, leadership qualities and work ethic—and the impact can be remarkable. "Kids go from D's and F's to C's and B's,” Officer Silva, says, “and this past year South Salt Lake PAL saw more kids graduate from high school than ever before." One of the reasons for this success is that this program shows children life’s bigger picture.

South Salt Lake PAL is about more than boxing. Through community volunteering, this program gives children a chance to become productive members in society and shows them how to give back. “That’s why we teach a pay-it-forward philosophy," says Officer Silva. By stressing the importance of respect and gratitude to one's community, South Salt Lake PAL is teaching children how to become productive and positive role models in their own neighborhoods. The program also teaches children to care about themselves. "The biggest difference between South Salt Lake PAL and other boxing gyms is that we care about their entire well-being; the children feel welcomed, safe, and learn to take care of their bodies (as well as their minds) because a smart boxer is a good boxer," says Officer Silva.

South Salt Lake PAL isn’t just a boxing club; it’s a family. Many of the children see this program as the best part of their day—and sometimes, the most memorable part of their year. Recently, the gym flew members of their team to California to compete in a boxing tournament, completely free of charge. "Many of them had never been on a plane before, or even seen a beach," says Officer Silva. These types of events are life experiences that “show these kids what is out there for them if they just keep working." And that, Silva says, is ultimately what South Salt Lake PAL is all about.

If you are interested in learning more about the impact South Salt Lake PAL has on the youth and want to provide your child with a life-changing experience, visit and join sslpal.org

 

- Dalton Oium