TRENTON — Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and New Jersey State Athletic Control Board (SACB) Commissioner Larry Hazzard Sr. today announced that $130,000 in total grant funding is being made available to provide ongoing support to an amateur boxing program for youth in Atlantic City, and to launch a similar program in Trenton.
The grants, being announced during National Mentoring Month, will be invested in programs that provide participants with not only boxing skills and fitness training, but also instruction on nutrition, wellness, and life skills. These programs build on the successful outcomes of initiatives launched in 2019 before being paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Atlantic City, the Atlantic City Police Athletic League (AC PAL) received $65,000 in July 2019 to operate a youth boxing program, and today, Attorney General Platkin has restarted that endeavor. In addition, another $65,000 will be invested to establish a similar program in Trenton.
“I am so proud to support this program, which provides opportunities for our state’s youth to learn lifelong skills to aid their physical and mental well-being,” said Attorney General Platkin. “We know that we are building on a successful initiative in Atlantic City, and thrilled to expand the programming to our state’s capital in Trenton.”
“This program enables children who have been through difficult experiences and who are exhibiting aggressive tendencies to change their trajectory,” said Commissioner Larry Hazzard of the New Jersey SACB. “We are empowering disadvantaged young people, giving them a chance to explore a sport that might otherwise be financially out of reach — a sport that can instill crucial life lessons and offer an exit ramp from violence and criminal activity.”
In Atlantic City, AC PAL used the previous round of funding to launch an after-school boxing program to serve youth from the city between the ages of 11 and 15, with the goal of building self-esteem, providing a safe space to enjoy positive activities, and propelling participants toward success.
Run out of the boxing gym of the AC PAL building, the program includes cardio calisthenics, shadow boxing, self-defense, and practice with punching bags. The ACPAL has also hosted amateur tournaments so participants could showcase what they have learned.
The young boxers-in-training additionally took a series of monthly workshops focusing on topics such as anger management, conflict resolution, improved decision-making, healthy lifestyles, and career exploration.
Pat Perez, a coach with AC PAL for over 10 years, said this latest round of grant funding would help children from economically disadvantaged families — who might otherwise have difficulty affording the gear and travel expenses associated with boxing — the opportunity to try the sport. Growing up in Atlantic City, Perez was frequently in trouble for fighting before he took up boxing, and he recalled how he would cut apart a white T-shirt to make wraps for his hands because his mother did not have the money for wraps. During his first amateur fight in 1996 at 13 years old, he borrowed another boxer’s shoes that were three sizes too big because he could not afford his own.
Now retired from boxing after 37 professional fights, Perez said the sport teaches young people to listen to and respect authority, and it reduces violent behavior outside the ring.
“I was a bad kid. Once I learned to box, I had nothing to prove, no reason to fight. You avoid fights. You know what you are capable of. You want to stay focused,” he said.
Perez said getting more youth involved in the sport will enable them to travel and see places beyond their immediate community, and to meet role models who have achieved success through hard work and dedication.
“With inner city kids, they don’t see boxers,” said Perez. “They see drug dealers with gold chains and cars. That is their role model. But when they come here, they see us.”
The programs being funded today in Trenton and Atlantic City will enroll participants who are between the ages of 11 and 18 and who reside and attend school in disadvantaged and high-crime neighborhoods, where they are exposed to negative influences that can lead to delinquency and gang involvement. The programs will offer healthy and safe alternatives and mentorship during after-school hours.
In Trenton, the funding will be made available through a competitive process to a New Jersey nonprofit, a private youth-serving organization, or a faith-based group that would then partner with an existing local amateur boxing club. The participants are expected to include youth referred by law enforcement, prosecutors, youth supervisors, and youth-servicing agencies and organizations because they are exhibiting aggression resulting from trauma, although such referrals are not required.
The youth who could potentially participate in the program undergo a screening process to determine their suitability, underlying issues, their comprehensive needs and their strengths, and a case plan is developed for each individual that includes boxing training, connections to social services, counseling, treatment, and mentoring.
Applications for the funding to run the new Trenton program are due by February 24, 2023.
More information on the parameters of the program in Trenton are available here in the Notice of Available Funds.