If you ever find yourself driving down the intersection between Buena Vista and San Jacinto in a residential area on San Antonio’s West side, be prepared to see it. No, it’s not the proverbial bird, or plane (but there is a hero involved). It’s a boxing ring. Outside. Covered under a pavilion named after the donor and everyone’s favorite Chairman of the Board of NuStar Energy, Bill Greehey, and situated alongside the two story structure which houses it’s office space.
Meet: The Advocates Social Services. (But you can call them The Advocates.)
A brief history: Started in 1978 by Executive Director Charlie Mata, The Advocates strived to assist the needy in obtaining necessary resources such as food and medical insurance. In 1999, the Boxing Youth Program, a free ancillary service created by Mata’s son, Jason, was born. Jason saw the program as a new and creative way to help youth in the area stay off the streets, in addition to overcoming age old issues of bullying, poor school attendance, and low self-esteem. Now, four days a week, youth can be seen diligently practicing their footwork, jabs, and shadow boxing outdoors on the grounds of the agency.
Although the program itself is situated in the Prospect Hill area, it’s outreach spans far greater than that. Data provided by Mata show that in the years spanning 2013-2015, youth enrolled in San Antonio ISD, Edgewood ISD, Eastside ISD, Northside ISD, South San ISD and even a private school student benefitted from the program. (For you out of towners, that basically encompasses three different geographic areas of the city.) Additionally, the program has a contract with Haven for Hope and provides after-school services for homeless children residing at the shelter. Referrals are also received through the Bexar County Juvenile Probation Office.
And while the program could stop there-it doesn’t. Jason stresses the importance of community outreach to participants through such outlets as the Justice for Youth March in 2015. In addition, the agency has played host to several public seminars on topics affecting the youth themselves, such as bullying and abuse. Most famously, Mata spoke on a panel alongside champion Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez and Olympian Marlen Esparza at an anti-bullying event in 2013.
But now, the agency is in trouble. While currently operating Monday-Thursday from 5:30-7:00 in the evenings, The Boxing Youth Program may soon be forced to close it’s doors due to high operating costs, low (consistent) volunteer turnout, and few donors. Mata has appealed to funding sources to no avail, and the agency may consequently resort to drastically cutting services as a result.
Now-let’s be honest. For some reason, there’s still a stigma attached to a sport that’s basic premise is to beat the pulp out of the guy standing in front of you. While true fans of the sport understand that there’s much more to it than that, at face value this is what boxing touts, and it could be a clear barrier to funding that Mata is experiencing. However, an important aspect of the program is that it provides non-combat training in a combat sport. (No, that’s not a typo.)
In essence, youth are peer trained in the basics of the sport: how to throw a punch, perfect their stance, move their feet, and (most importantly) protect themselves at all times, all without actually sparring against each other. Oh, at some point this can be introduced, but it’s completely voluntary and there’s no expectation or pretense of it occurring. Most importantly, the onus is on participants to prove that they are mature enough to take on the responsibility of competing in the sweet science. This is proven not only physically, but through their character and actions as well, both inside the program and out. And for those who prove capable and choose to compete, Mata is with you. The boxing program has boasted competitors in the Golden Gloves tournament in San Antonio and has hosted it’s own tournaments as well.
So, if you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably wondering how you can help. You can start by checking out the agency’s website: boxingsanantonio.com, Facebook page: The Advocates Boxing Youth Program, and Twitter page: @TASSSAT. Read about their programs in greater depth (by writers more skilled than I), and see for yourself all the good that The Advocates have done. If you live nearby and would like to volunteer (or have additional questions) contact Jason Mata at firstname.lastname@example.org. And don’t keep quiet about it-spread the word about all the good that can come from punching something.
Facebook: Junk in the Trunks
*Obvi, there’s no “Man” to truly damn here, but if there’s a person alive who can knowingly pass up an “Empire Records” reference when one is so blatantly handed to him/her, I hope I never meet them.