The Harvard Elementary seventh-grader could have spent
this Friday evening hanging out with friends, but she chose to
spend it working out in the Believe Center boxing gym.
“To keep me busy, to keep me exercising, to stay in shape,” she
said of her decision to hit the gym. “I like the sport—a lot of
After all, she’s working off some nervous energy, as she
anxiously anticipates her competitive debut in the ring March 1.
Her first boxing competition will be a measuring stick as she
prepares for more serious bouts which will start in September.
Sparring with teammates will only get her so far.
So Christina closed her eyes and visualized victory. “Me winning
and having a fun time doing it” is how she described what she
saw. The young Latina has only been boxing for three months, but
she already has her sights set on Golden Gloves someday.
She also has motivated her younger brother to try the sport.
Both siblings have found new energy and enthusiasm.
“I’m not as tired. Normally I’ll go home and be lazy and just go
to sleep,” she said. “I’ve lost some weight and drink a lot of
water. I used to not do sports. Since I’ve done boxing, I drink
a lot of water and I’m healthier. I don’t eat a lot at home.”
But Christina also has seen her self-confidence grow as she
learns to box.
“I used to be shy. This has made me not that shy. I talk more,”
Christina would like to see more of her teenage friends and
neighbors come to the center and try the sport.
“It’s a good thing to keep you from going out on the streets,
messing up. It’s good exercise and keeps you busy with life,”
At an age when most teenage girls are into makeup, clothes, and
boys, Christina is keeping her focus. But there’s a time and a
place for the rest.
“I can still be girlie-girl,” she said.
Coaching—with a purpose
“(I see) a lot of potential. Some of these kids really want to
do it,” said volunteer coach Saúl Urbina, 24. “We get
some jokers. I try to run them off, but they won’t go. (That)
makes it even better.”
Urbina stated he gets “much more” out of coaching the kids than
they do. He and his brothers had the benefit of a boxing gym in
his backyard growing up.
“Boxing’s been my whole life. As a kid, I wanted to do it so
bad,” he explained. “As I got older, I wasn’t in the physical
peak for it. So I’ve turned it toward the kids and still get the
same rush from it.”
Urbina works in landscaping by day. But two hours each evening,
five days a week, he turns his attention toward kids who are
growing up in the Old South End like he did.
“Most of them are in behavioral school. Some of them come here
and act tough. But they get to doing the workout, it ain’t the
same,” he explained with a grin, knowing that when the kids get
in the boxing ring, they find out just how tough, or not, they
really are. “Some of them stay. Some of them go. But a lot of
them end up staying.”
While Urbina put kids through workout drills on one side of the
Believe Center, volunteers were putting away chairs from a
funeral reception held earlier in the day. The family had buried
a young man “who had given a ride to another” to East Toledo,
according to center director Tonya Durán, shot because he
had “been in the wrong place.”
Urbina knows he may be saving some other young lives through
“I’m doing it for the kids now. I was done years ago,” he said
with a laugh. “It’s pulling them out of the streets. They don’t
have to follow other people. Bring them here; show them how to
be leaders—instead of following people, rather have them be
Urbina called it a simple formula that the Believe Center
follows for all of its sports programs, whether it’s baseball,
basketball, soccer, or football. Keep kids busy.
“Just structure in their life and they get to go places,” he
said. “We don’t just stay in Toledo. We go to different
tournaments. We’ve got a school program, so they know they have
to keep their grades up at all times if they want to go places.
It just gives them more out of life with just a little bit of
structure—because some of them don’t even have dads.”
Urbina also knows boxing saved his life as a youth.
“I’d probably be in jail or something like that or into
something I shouldn’t,” he admitted. “Boxing put a little bit of
structure into my life, respecting people and stuff like that.
Learning how to win and lose. You can’t always win, you know. I
had four brothers and we all did it—and none of us ended up in
Now Urbina is trying to pass down to a new generation what he
learned as a kid—what kept his family together.
“I just have a passion for it,” he said. “My brothers did it. My
dad had champions before. So I guess it’s just in the bloodlines
with us. Even my grandpa did the fighting.”
At the Believe Center, the young boxers are forced to focus.
Tutors help them with homework. There’s also a rule—cell phones
and computers are off limits while completing a two-hour daily
workout and training.
“A lot of kids just want to be doing games or on the phone all
day,” he said. “Around here, they know if they’re doing boxing
from 5 to 7, they can’t answer.”
“We have a no TV, no Internet zone here, because they can do
that at home,” said Ms. Durán, laughing. “When they’re here,
they concentrate on the games, their ability, and whatever
activity they’re doing here—not phones. They ask me for the
wireless code, but I tell them I don’t know it.”
To some degree, the boxing program even fights a childhood
“A lot of them came here as big kids. Now they see themselves
doing pull-ups when they couldn’t before,” he said with a smile.
“A couple weeks, three weeks into it, they realize they can do a
couple. Just got to keep doing it. Makes them stronger.”
While many people may view boxing as an individual sport, Urbina
stresses kids are learning a lot of teamwork along the way.
“Not when you’re in the gym. When you go out in combat, yes,
it’s you and him. But in the gym, they push each other,” he
explained. “You spar, work the bag, doing pushups. We do drills,
see who’s the best, keep them competitive. We stay on each other
in the gym. Even the kids stay on me when I work out in the gym.
They try to push me. In the ring, it may be individual—but you
still have each other, cheering each other.”
The youngest boxer is eight years old. But Urbina is willing to
work with kids as young as seven to see if they like the sport.
“Their faces light up. It’s priceless when they win, because
they didn’t think they’d be doing this. Some of them are pretty
tough,” he said.
Urbina has every confidence he has some future Golden Gloves
winners in the gym.
“Oh yeah, for sure—we just have to get them moving faster,” he
said. “We’ve got a couple of them that are coming around really
Still a struggle
Ms. Durán stated the boxing program has worked with 85 kids at
one time or another—and more than half have become regulars.
City recreation officials helped the center secure a boxing ring
once programs expanded to additional space that became
“We’ve been missing this piece in the Old South End,” she said.
“Before, kids would have to go to the north end or east for the
boxing program. My goal is to keep sports alive and boxing’s the
only thing we didn’t do.”
The Believe Center now hosts dance classes and a tennis program
in addition to its initial sports since it opened nearly two
years ago. According to Durán, kids walk through the front doors
more than 1,100 times each week for various programs.
“People still don’t know who we are. We have no funding for our
boxing program,” she lamented. The center continues to run
entirely with volunteers. Even the boxing program’s tutoring
sessions are run by retired schoolteacher Maria Martinez and a
volunteer helper. Somehow, someone always manages to answer a
call for help in the neighborhood.
“We still need equipment—and money,” said Ms. Durán. “We have
the kids. The kids come faithfully. Even in the super, super
cold, the kids still came and they like being here. It’s a safe
The center also tries to continue to make sure kids who come to
its sports programs don’t go home hungry—because outside of
school, it may be the only meal they’ll see.
“We can’t give them much. Sometimes it’s just crackers and
cheese, a bowl of soup, or grilled-cheese,” said Ms. Durán.
“Today my sister made turkey sandwiches. Every day we try to
give them a little something in their stomach.”
Nearly two years later, Ms. Durán still sticks to the core
mission of the Believe Center.
“We believe we’ve made a difference in every child’s life,” she
said. “We do. When they come in, they hold the doors open for
other people. They’re really respectful and it’s really nice.
Even parents tell us when they get home, they’re so tired they
take a shower and go to sleep—the kids don’t act up.”
But Ms. Durán also stated the Believe Center helps kids believe
in themselves, “to be happy for what they have,” as she put it.
“We may not have a lot, but we’re happy with what we have. We
teach them that,” she explained. “Respect yourselves. Respect
others. Live a happy life.”
Anyone interested in donating or
signing up their kids for sports programs can contact the
Believe Center at 419-244-6097 or