Vasquez used to box as a distraction from this life, he said.
“I just have a lot more time on my hands than I did before,” Vasquez said. “I’d work out five days a week, box for two hours and come home tired and not run the streets.”
He used to box competitively at an amateur level with goals of going professional down the road.
He may now get that chance.
Pastor Leslie Williams and local activist Roberto Nerey, partners in the recently consolidated SALT/GANG (Saving a Life Together and Guiding a New Generation) programs at Christ Bethlehem Church in Sparks, are preparing to start a boxing program to prevent and redirect troubled teens from joining gangs.
“We’re going to take kids off the street,” Williams said. “In order to do that, we need to take the neighborhood out of them.”
The boxing facility, Williams and Nerey believe, would be the first of its kind in Sparks. The ring would be placed in the Christ Bethlehem facility at 1220 E. Greg St. A speed bag has been donated by Emmanuel Garcia, another former gang member with boxing experience. Williams and Nerey have decided they want a 16-by-16-foot boxing ring, which they hope to get donated.
The SALT/GANG leaders have the possibility of a ring that has a hydraulic corner holding up the ropes, but it’s not functioning properly, Williams said. Purchasing a ring of that size would cost upwards of $5,000, Williams estimated.
But the young boxers will need more than just the ring. Williams and Nerey are seeking individual donors or sports stores, including Scheels All-Sports, Big 5 Sporting Goods and other retailers, to pitch in pieces of gear. The equipment needed for the program include a punching bag, protective gear such as hand wraps, gloves and mouthpieces, focus mitts, hanging mirrors, jump ropes and posters of boxing champions for inspiration. Athletic shoes and tank tops are also needed.
“We want the place looking like the little smoke-filled room that Rocky trained in,” Williams teased – without the smoke, of course.
Vasquez said he believes making boxing available to youth will provide a viable alternative to the streets.
“They have, in school, the mentors,” Vasquez said, “but when they’re out of school, when there’s not more stuff to do after school … this would be a good activity.”
Beyond equipment, coaches and volunteers are also needed. Williams said one person is already willing and committed to be a coach and he and Nerey are looking for more who would be interested in volunteering.
Lou Raschella, a California state boxing champion, has volunteered to help local youth get off the street and into the ring.
“If I help one gang member get out of a gang, it’s worth the rest of my life,” he said.
Raschella began boxing when he was 8 years old and began coaching in the 1980s. He’s trained boxing professionals Lonnie Smith and Ron Lyle and says the next champion could come out of the Reno-Sparks area.
“Boxing builds character and discipline,” he said. “It teaches you not only how to use your hands but your mind and your heart.”
Williams also wants to address all areas of teens’ lives. The boxing club will only be one component of a 48-week training program all members must participate in to have access to the facility. The program will teach students, in modules, about such issues as gangs, pregnancy and drugs. Students will be selected for boxing based on their commitment to the SALT program, which students must attend regularly and graduate from to become “SALT teens,” or leaders, among their own peers.
Incorporating boxing will be an incentive to go through the program. Raschella said he will train individually and in groups and is willing to help those teens who are serious about going into the sport as a professional.
Though the program is not yet off the ground, Nerey said 20 kids already have expressed an interest in joining the program and half of those have boxed before.
“If we put our hand on their shoulder and say, ‘Son, you’re doing great,’ when they see we respect who they are, then there’s credibility,” Nerey said.
Williams, who recently attended a roundtable discussion with Sen. Harry Reid about interfaith issues, said a summit is being planned for November, at which he will discuss his program.
Tonight, SNCAT will air a discussion in which Williams and Nerey also detail their plans for the SALT/GANG program. The program airs from 10 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Charter channel 16.
To donate to the SALT/GANG program, call Williams at Christ Bethlehem’s main line, 355-6775 and press #2 to reach the SALT line.