Girls present a boxing exhibition at the new North Lake Highlands Youth Boxing Gym

Today, Israel Marquez is a Dallas Police officer, but Marquez grew up in Oak Cliff, trying to stay out of trouble.

Sign up for our newsletter!

* indicates required

He admits he wasn’t always successful.

At 12, he began boxing at a gym called Casa Guanajuato and says it changed his life. The new North Lake Highlands Youth Boxing Gym at Forest and Audelia has the same potential to change lives in LH, he says.

“It’s going to benefit these kids just like it did me,” says Marquez. “It’s going to keep them out of trouble. It kept me occupied and taught me discipline. Without discipline you won’t succeed in this sport. If you don’t have discipline, it shows as soon as you get in the ring. You’ve got to have discipline in training, discipline in what you eat, all kinds of discipline.”

“I spent 2 hours a day training,” continued Marquez, “and you start forming relationships, not just with your coaches, but with your teammates. Boxing is an individual sport – it’s not like basketball, where you play with other players – but you train with others. Others help you get better. You start making more friends. Boxing made me feel secure about myself, and when there were fights at school I thought, ‘I don’t need to fight him. I know I could beat him.’ Or others would say, ‘I don’t want to get in a fight with him, he boxes.’ They wouldn’t test me.”

Officers from the Dallas Police Athletic/Activities League (PAL) will train the kids, and the gym will be open Monday-Friday afternoons from 4-8.

“We’re going to help these kids grow, not just as athletes, but as people as well,” say PAL’s Glen Delgado. “We’ll be teaching them core values.”

Boys and girls aged 7-18 are invited to participate, though there will be self-defense classes, too, for women and senior citizens.

“We will be teaching basic boxing, though not all the kids will want to spar,” says Delgado. “Some just want to learn the self defense aspect, and some want to get in shape for other sports. Hand-eye coordination is a key part.”

The program will begin with 30 kids and expand as word of the program spreads. The program will be managed day-to-day by Dallas Parks and Recreation, which secured the retail space near Forest Lane Academy essentially rent-free. The goal was to reach kids in the Forest-Audelia area, consistently on Dallas’ top 5 TAAG list (Targeted Area Action Grid) for crime.

“[DPD] Chief Acord, Councilman Adam McGough and the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas said, ‘We need to do something for these kids,” says Steve Baker of Dallas’ Parks and Rec, “so the Apartment Association donated, recruited and solicited a lot of the materials to build the space and all of the labor to get everything done. They want to bring in the residents of the apartments and the schools nearby.”

Parks and Rec personnel will assist with health and wellness training and fitness assessments.

At a ribbon cutting for the new facility Friday, principals of the two nearest schools – Richardson ISD’s Forest Lane Academy and Audelia Creek Elementary – thanked the community in advance for changes certain to come.

“This will give our kids hope and encouragement and drive,” said FLA’s Lariza Liner, “and it will give them a place they can go other than their apartments or out on the streets. So thank you. This will impact many, many lives.”

“There are 1400 kids in our two schools who walk past this facility,” agreed Raymie Venable of Audelia Creek. “We can pick out certain kids and just tell this is going to change their lives. The possibilities are endless.”

Also attending was a celebrity of sorts – Jackie Kallen. Kallen, the inspiration for the movie Against the Ropes known as The First Lady of Boxing, is a former boxing journalist and manager.

“I’ve opened gyms like this in inner city Detroit and South Central L.A.,” she said. “You have no idea what this is going to do for your community – boys and girls. It’s a straight road from the streets to discipline, happiness, new friendships and eating healthy – it changes your entire life. I’ve worked with almost 8 world champions – I’ve been lucky. Where did I find them? In places like this gym.”

Kallen presented the gym with a signed glove from Thomas “Hitman” Hearns, along with his best wishes.

The gym officially opens Oct. 16.

Israel Marquez, left, with other Dallas officers who will support the gym

Jackie Kallen, The First Lady of Boxing, presents a signed glove from former champ Thomas “Hitman” Hearns

Texas Rep. Linda Koop and Councilman Adam McGough with youth boxers