At City Athletic Boxing Club there are no bad kids, only bad decisions.
Twice a week a busload of teenage boys rolls down from the Spring Mountain Youth Camp correctional facility on Mount Charleston.
For 90 minutes the boys aren’t incarcerated; they’re training in the same gym shared by boxing talent like Jessie Vargas. Over the course of four months trainers teach them to throw and dodge punches, eat right and condition their bodies.
“Boxing puts you through a process, and without knowing it you start achieving things,” gym owner and retired professional boxer Armin Van Damme, 58, said. “And that’s the part that gets people really excited.”
Since the program launched April 2015, more than 350 at-risk boys have participated. One hour of one-on-one training at City Athletic Boxing Club can cost $85, but the gym provides it to the boys for free and rewards them with equipment.
The program is more about perseverance, self-confidence and discipline than it is fighting, retired Spring Mountain probation officer Sean Doak said. Getting into a brawl outside the ring will get a participant kicked out of the program.
“You can’t become a boxer if you’re a bully, if you pick on someone, if you’re aggressively looking to fight, because fighting is a skilled sport,” said Doak, 60. “You have to be in control. It’s mind, body and soul in terms of discipline and control.”
Van Damme and City Athletic Boxing Club were honored April 3 by the Clark County Commission for helping youth. The gym also helps teen boys in the Evening Reporting Center, a diversion program aimed at keeping juvenile delinquents out of detention centers, and plans to also expand its services to girls this year.
During the commission ceremony, Steven Carson, an 18-year-old who began training at City Athletic Boxing Club while at Spring Mountain, thanked Van Damme. Carson credited the program for putting him on the path to get his real estate license.
“I don’t know where I would be today if it wasn’t for him, if it wasn’t for Sean, if it wasn’t for everyone in the Spring Mountain Youth Camp,” Carson said. “Boxing has changed my life.”
Van Damme offers free gym memberships to everyone who completes the program.
“After they’re released, a lot of times these kids have no place to go to, or most of the time they go back to the environment they’re used to,” he said. “We try to give them a different vision, a different look on what’s out there.”
Contact Michael Scott Davidson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3861. Follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter.