“YOU DON’T PLAY BOXING.”
Coach John, a coach at the West Area Athletic & Education Center often tells this to his group of youth boxers. It’s a constant reminder, as he often wears a hat with this same phrase. The boxers are constantly reminded of the importance of focus, which in a sport like boxing could be the difference between getting punched in the face or not. The center founded by Ray Rinaldi, a Central NY native and SU alum, is a nonprofit boxing club that exists to help youth learn boxing and life skills. Monday through Friday, more than 20 kids train at the center and receive academic and personal support. They are guided and encouraged to become not only better athletes but also better people. The practices are tough—an hour and 15 minutes of running, push-ups and various boxing drills. Chris Burns, the head coach is tough, and doesn’t tolerate silliness or a lack of attention during practice. Everyone is pushed to be his or her personal best. Burns tells the boxers during practice that even if they aren’t the biggest or fastest or strongest, they can set the goal of working hard and improving themselves. He and the other coaches model leadership and encourage the older boxers to mentor their younger teammates. The kids take turns leading parts of practice, and when each one leads, they are given the same respect from their peers that their coaches would receive. One boxer has been coming to the center since he was four years old. Others were introduced to boxing as a way to handle anger and aggression. Some dream of being professional boxers and competing in the Olympic games. And they all continue to return day after day, practice after practice, some six days a week, for the love of the sport.