More than a hundred kids have come through the doors of the North Lake Highlands Youth Boxing Gym to learn the fundamentals of boxing. The gym is an anomaly — the type of place where two Olympic hopefuls, police officers and neighborhood children spar before eating dinner.
Knocking out crime
Glen Delgado is exhausted after three minutes in the ring.
Joshua Jenkins, a 17-year-old Olympic hopeful, won’t let him slack. Wearing a body protector, Jenkins is Delgado’s target. His twin brother Jordan, also nationally ranked, leans against the ropes to watch them practice.
Completely out of breath, Delgado kneels over at the end of the round. Those few minutes in the ring feel like he just sprinted to the finish line of a 5k.
“I got him in the corner,” Joshua says.
A chorus of “uh-ohs” echo through the gym. Delgado can’t help but laugh.
He and officer Allison Brockford coach at the North Lake Highlands Youth Boxing Gym, a public-private endeavor to give area youth recreational activities.
“I love it,” Brockford says. “This has turned into the best assignment I’ve ever had. The kids amaze me.”
The facility is tucked inside a shopping center at the northwest corner of Forest and Audelia. The neighborhood was ranked Dallas’ fifth most dangerous in 2015. Crime rates are declining, although drug dealers frequent the parking lots.
Curbing crime entailed the City of Dallas’ public nuisance lawsuit against nearby Bent Creek shopping center, relocating the DART bus stop and establishing a violent crimes task force and North Lake Highlands Public-Improvement District.
About two years ago, Andy Acord, former police chief of the Northeast Division, had another idea: launching a boxing gym.
“At that time, I was just looking for any opportunity we had for recreational activity,” City Councilman Adam McGough says. “We didn’t have any park land, any libraries or cultural center in the immediate area, so I knew it’d have to be something creative.”
Finding funding for the project would take a landlord willing rent the space at an affordable price, cooperation among several entities and a “small miracle” or two, McGough told the Advocate in 2016.
A California property owner agreed to rent the 5,000-square-foot space for a nominal fee. The Apartment Association of Greater Dallas offered to help back the gym, which opened in October 2017.
Dallas Police Athletic League and the Park and Recreation Department manage the facility’s day-to-day operations. As soon as it opened, Brockford and Delgado pulled teens roaming the neighborhood into the gym.
“Here’s paperwork,” they said. “If you sign it, you can box with a police officer.”
Roughly 35 neighborhood children spend four hours at the gym after school to learn the fundamentals of boxing. Yoga, TRX, dinner and field trips also are included in the program. Coaches shout instructions over the sound of buzzers blaring, weights clanking and kids punching bags.
Manager Rafael Arredondo wants to keep the kids smiling — just not when they’re sparring.
“What I’ve learned is when people have fun and are laughing, they learn quicker,” he says.
Besides 25 years with the Park and Recreation Department, Arredondo’s resume features stints as a gang interventionist and multi-sport coach. He mans the gym’s front desk and doles out paperwork to newcomers, who stop in daily asking to participate.
“It’s going to take people in this neighborhood to invest in the youth in it,” he says. “If they’re not here participating, it won’t change. This is a perfect opportunity to make that improvement.”
Several coaches are neighborhood volunteers who undergo a strict vetting process. Emergency room nurse Mayra Zavala grew up in Forest-Audelia and was a student at an alternative school when she was introduced to boxing. Now an emergency room nurse at Parkland Hospital, Zavala volunteers at the gym.
“I honestly think if I did not have boxing, I would not have made it through school,” she says.
Another coach, a refugee who fled Afghanistan, led that country’s Olympic boxing team until the Taliban discovered he was assisting U.S. troops. They threatened to harm his family, so they fled, eventually landing in Lake Highlands. Although he’s new to Texas, he leads some of the group’s most challenging workouts.
Jordan and Joshua Jenkins — both ranked top 10 in the nation — train for elite competitions at the gym. They mentor the other boxers, even awarding their peers with their own championship belts after the amateur Golden Gloves competition.
“We know we gotta be role models and watch what we say,” Joshua says.
Isabella Martinez was one of the boxers who received a belt from the twins. She is a shy 10-year-old, except when she’s competing. She smiles and immediately says, “yes,” when asked if she’s better than the boys.
Leaving the gym at 8 p.m. to do homework is tiring, but it’s worth it to Martinez.
“If you come and do it every day, you won’t be at home being lazy or running the streets,” she says.