Can learning to punch someone reduce violence in
The Illinois State Crime Commission and the Police Athletic
League think so and are introducing a new youth
anti-violence initiative: learning to box.
The sport is intended to serve as a gateway to get junior
high and high school kids off the streets. PAL boxing
programs exist nationwide, but this is the first one
"Boxing is a hook, a draw to get you in the program," said
John Bitoy, PAL Boxing Gym Liaison. Bitoy has also
been involved with the West Englewood Boxing Club for
more than a decade. Throughout that time, Bitoy said he has
buried seven kids from the area who died
For reasons like that, others jumped at the opportunity to
participate, including police officers, firefighters
and PAL program media director, Rasheda Ali, daughter
of boxing legend Muhammad Ali. Rasheda said she is
committed to helping PAL not only to reduce juvenile
delinquency, but also to promote recreational
Rasheda's father got his start in a Police Athletic League
in Kentucky when he was 12 and his bicycle was stolen.
The police officer he told about the theft simply told
him if he wanted his bike back he needed to learn to
His daughter got involved for an additional
Years ago, one of her first cousins was gunned down outside
of his home. While some families are able to move to
safer neighborhoods, not everyone can. For that
reason, Rasheda said, something has to be done.
"If I can save at least one child from being gunned down in
front of their home, then the work we are doing here
today is worth it," said Rasheda. "I said yes because
of my cousin."
Some still might wonder, why boxing? Why build an
anti-violence program around a controversial
This is "a fight we can't afford to lose," said Jerry
Elsner, the executive director of the Illinois Crime
Commission. "Our children are dying. We have to get
them in the gym and, most of all, we have to give them
Boxing is a state of mind, a retired boxer at the
presentation said. With the training and mentoring of
law enforcement officials, firefighters and PAL
boxers, kids will learn to recognize their ability to
The Chicago Park District has 17 gyms to practice in, with
plans to increase to 20. Several boxing clubs,
including the McGarry, Celtic and West Englewood
clubs, are affiliated with the program.
With approximately 400 kids involved, PAL Boxing Director
Mike Joyce said he has plans to expand.
The first ISCC/PAL Boxing Gala is scheduled for
May 6 at the Hawthorne Race Course
in Stickney. The event will recognize participants and coaches
as well as attempt to get sponsors. Supporters will
enable the program to further develop as well as offer
qualified PAL participants internships, scholarships
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