South Bend Police Athletic League helps kids learn life lessons

Published: Feb. 12, 2020 at 3:13 PM EST
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A couple weeks ago, 16 News Now introduced viewers to

, a 10-year-old boxer breaking barriers with help from the South Bend Police Athletic League.

Wednesday was a day for more introductions.

Meet a pair of local teens who have grown up through the program and are ready to take their talents into the professional ring.

“We do what we can as far as the police department to better our community and to bridge that gap,” South Bend Police Department Community Engagement Capt. David Herron said.

The South Bend Police Athletic League has been a South Bend staple for 30 years.

"This is a safe place to play, to learn life-learning skills through athletics and learning that police officers are here to help you,” Herron said.

Herron estimated that each year the program helps roughly 1,000 local kids.

“They learn how to set goals,” he said. “They learn good discipline through hard work. The kids, they learn how to follow directions. They learn how to listen. We ask those kids for what they learn here to take to home and also to take to the classroom.”

Two of those kids are on the verge of turning pro.

“I used to get bullied in school when I was in elementary school,” Jesus Ruiz said. “Learning how to box, it gave me the confidence to not take anything from no one.”

Ruiz is a senior at Brandywine High School and has been with the program for eight years.

“The desire to get better and to grow as an athlete and just as a person in general motivates me to keep coming back to the sport, no matter how many times I get punched in the face, because it’s not necessarily a pleasant feeling,” Ruiz said.

“With Jesus, 110% he believes in hard work,” Herron said. “He wants to be a boxer. Some kids don’t want to be a boxer.”

Julio Martinez goes to Adams and is ready to take it to the next level.

“I’m not like other kids,” Martinez said. “Some other kids be doing bad stuff. But I come here every day to train so I don’t got to be in the bad path.”

Both teens understand how the league can have a greater impact on their families and the next generation.

“Very big responsibility on my shoulders to be the best person that I can be so they can look up to me,” Ruiz said.

“You can do boxing here,” Martinez said. “You can make new friends here. You ain’t got to be in the streets doing bad stuff.”

South Bend police encourage parents to get involved as well.

Ruiz says boxing isn’t as easy as it looks.

“There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears, a lot of hard work,” Ruiz said. “It takes a lot of discipline and commitment. So you have to be not only physically prepared by mentally as well.”

With 30 years in the ring, the Police Athletic League has no plans of tapping out.

“We’re part of the community,” Herron said. “We want to see each and every one of the youth here in our community to succeed."

The South Bend Police Athletic League offers free classes Monday through Wednesday. It also offers tutoring on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

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