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Local boxing/mentoring club deserves miracle

If you click on the website, you immediately hear the theme song from “Rocky IV,” one that talks about there being no easy way out, no shortcut home, that some things are worth fighting for, that giving in can’t be wrong.

Jose Banales doesn’t want to give in because of Edwin Yepez and hundreds like him, because this is a story about much more than a building, but rather of searching for space to continue a mission of mentoring and guidance to those who need it most.

For the youth who are lost, struggling, recently incarcerated, oftentimes fatherless, sometimes homeless, fearful of the only doors that ever have welcomed them with the promise of a brighter future being closed.

“I am a survivor,” Banales said. “But this time, we are hoping for a miracle.”

How ironic, considering how many he already has performed.

Banales is the 48-year-old president/CEO/coach/miracle worker of North Las Vegas Center Ring Boxing, which his family founded in a garage in 1994 and for the past three years has made its home at 1020 Fremont St.

It isn’t much to look at, hardly a picture of aesthetic splendor, but within the cracks of a broken-down structure is the appearance of a boxing gym and yet so much more.

Some of the kids box. There are heavy bags and rings and gloves and speed bags and boxing posters hanging from the decaying plaster.

Most of the 60 or so youth who pass through the doors daily, however, are saved in one way or the other.

The testimonials are endless, from young men to their single mothers, words of thanks and gratitude and emotion, stories of becoming better students and citizens and of finding hope in otherwise dire situations.

Of being dirt poor and feeling alone until discovering a home with Banales.

It is, more than anything, a mentoring program of hope and education, of science fairs and math fairs and stressing the need to stay in school and off the streets. Boxing is the vehicle by which Banales uses to motivate those either the court system directs his way or word-of-mouth lands at his doorstep.

He’s just not sure how much longer either is possible.

His building is among those targeted by the Downtown Project, a revitalization plan that has allocated $350 million to the vision of “empowering people to follow their passions to create a vibrant, connected urban core.”

Banales said those from the project have been accommodating enough to allow his program to remain in the building through August, but eventually that whole idea of a vibrant urban core figures to win out.

It has been a constant struggle to keep afloat, from a state grant expiring and not being picked up at the federal level, from the city wanting to classify the building as a gymnasium rather than the youth program it is, from questions about licensing and occupancy, from donations running thin and time running out.

His has been a program free of charge to all who reached out for help.

Now, Banales and his fellow coaches/mentors, who have other jobs and used all monies from the state grant the past five years to improve the program, need a dose of their own.

“You know, the (Downtown Project) has been very lenient in letting us stay this long,” said Banales, who was informed in March of the probability he would have to vacate. “They have tried helping us. They tried adopting us, but getting the needed grants and donations has proven difficult.

“I’m not looking for a mansion. Just some space. Maybe a third of the kids who come here box. But they all need mentoring. I can go find a place with 12 or so kids to work out. But what about all the others who really need this place to turn their lives around and become educated?”

Edwin Yepez is one. He is 17 and about to begin his senior year at Sunrise Mountain High, a kid with past issues with the law and no father at home to help direct him past those land mines of trouble that seem to find those most struggling.

He first walked into North Las Vegas Center Ring Boxing a year ago or so, lost and confused, with nowhere to turn.

“Before coming here, I never even thought about graduating from high school,” said Yepez, who lives with his mother and older brother. “Now, I want to go to college. This place keeps us off the streets, makes us do our schoolwork, keeps us on a straight line. I don’t have a dad. (Banales) is the closest thing a lot of us have to a father. Joe has given us all a purpose.

“I am who I am today, changed from my past, because of him.”

If that isn’t a miracle, what is?

■ ■ ■

For more information on the need of North Las Vegas Center Ring Boxing to find a new location for its mentoring program, contact Jose Banales at 702-335-0571 or banalesjoe@yahoo.com. The program’s website is www.nlvcenterringboxing.org.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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