Boxing Program Provides Positive Influences & Mentorship to Kids in Atlantic City, Trenton


NJ Attorney General & State Athletic Board award $130k to amateur boxing programs in Trenton and Atlantic City, offering skills training & life lessons to youth. [Photo: AC PAL Boxing Program]

New Jersey's Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and Commissioner Larry Hazzard Sr. of the State Athletic Control Board (SACB) announced on January 27th that $130,000 in grant funding has been made available to support amateur boxing programs for youth in Atlantic City and to launch a similar program in Trenton.

The grants, made during National Mentoring Month, will be invested in programs that aim to provide participants not only with boxing and fitness training, but also nutrition, wellness, and life skills education. The initiatives build on successful programs that were launched in 2019 but were paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am so proud to support this program, which provides opportunities for our state’s youth to learn lifelong skills to aid their physical and mental well-being,” said Attorney General Platkin. “We know that we are building on a successful initiative in Atlantic City, and thrilled to expand the programming to our state’s capital in Trenton.”

In Atlantic City, the Atlantic City Police Athletic League (AC PAL) received $65,000 in July 2019 to operate a youth boxing program, which Attorney General Platkin has now restarted. Another $65,000 will be invested to establish a similar program in Trenton.

The AC PAL program in Atlantic City offers after-school boxing for youth aged 11-15, with the goal of building self-esteem, providing a safe space for positive activities, and propelling participants toward success.

Run out of the boxing gym of the AC PAL building, the program includes cardio calisthenics, shadow boxing, self-defense, and punching bag practice and has hosted amateur tournaments for participants to showcase their skills.

“This program enables children who have been through difficult experiences and who are exhibiting aggressive tendencies to change their trajectory,” said Commissioner Larry Hazzard of the New Jersey SACB. “We are empowering disadvantaged young people, giving them a chance to explore a sport that might otherwise be financially out of reach — a sport that can instill crucial life lessons and offer an exit ramp from violence and criminal activity.”

The young boxers-in-training additionally took a series of monthly workshops focusing on topics such as anger management, conflict resolution, improved decision-making, healthy lifestyles, and career exploration.

Retired professional boxer Pat Perez, a coach with AC PAL for over 10 years, said this latest round of grant funding would help children from economically disadvantaged families — who might otherwise have difficulty affording the gear and travel expenses associated with boxing — the opportunity to try the sport.

Growing up in Atlantic City, Perez was frequently in trouble for fighting before he took up boxing, and he recalled how he would cut apart a white T-shirt to make wraps for his hands because his mother did not have the money for wraps. During his first amateur fight in 1996 at 13 years old, he borrowed another boxer’s shoes that were three sizes too big because he could not afford his own.

Now retired from boxing after 37 professional fights, Perez said the sport teaches young people to listen to and respect authority, and it reduces violent behavior outside the ring.

“I was a bad kid. Once I learned to box, I had nothing to prove, no reason to fight. You avoid fights. You know what you are capable of. You want to stay focused,” Perez said.

Perez noted that getting more youth involved in the sport will enable them to travel and see places beyond their immediate community and to meet role models who have achieved success through hard work and dedication.

“With inner-city kids, they don’t see boxers,” said Perez. “They see drug dealers with gold chains and cars. That is their role model. But when they come here, they see us.”

The programs in Trenton and Atlantic City will enroll participants between the ages of 11 and 18 who reside and attend school in disadvantaged and high-crime neighborhoods. The programs will offer healthy and safe alternatives and mentorship during after-school hours.

The funding for the Trenton program will be made available through a competitive process to a New Jersey nonprofit, a private youth-serving organization, or a faith-based group that will then partner with a local amateur boxing club.

The participants are expected to include kids referred by law enforcement, prosecutors, youth supervisors, and youth-serving agencies and organizations due to their aggressive behavior resulting from trauma, although such referrals are not required.

Potential youth participants will undergo a screening process to determine their suitability, underlying issues, comprehensive needs, and strengths, and a case plan will be developed for each individual that includes boxing training, social services, counseling, treatment, and mentoring.

Applications for the funding to run the new Trenton program are due by February 24, 2023.

More information on the parameters of the program in Trenton is available here in the Notice of Available Funds.

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