Boxing gym giving youth a ‘Fighting Chance’

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Photo/Anthony Victoria: Project Fighting Chance serves as a safe haven for youth that need mentorship and other life skills. It also has served as a training center for young boxers aiming to compete at the highest level. Pictured here is Kenny Lobatoz, 10, who placed second at the Silver Gloves National Youth Boxing Tournament last month.

Seventeen years ago, Ian Franklin had a vision–one that involved establishing a boxing program to mentor youth facing the dangers of drugs and violence on the streets of San Bernardino.

“I kept telling myself, ‘I got to wait to get a building and have to do this and that,’” Franklin explained. “My minister at my Church told me to not be afraid to start small. It turned on a light in me.”

Franklin decided to launch his nonprofit, Project Fighting Chance, from his garage back in 1999. It wasn’t long before there were dozens of aspiring boxers training under his tutelage, while also receiving life lessons. Almost two decades later, Franklin, 53, has transformed tough kids into first-class athletes and exceptional human beings.

“We’re giving kids an alternative, another option to what’s going out here,” said Franklin. “Once you get a kid in here, you’ll get them to feel good about themselves and reach their full potential.”

The nonprofit’s most popular attraction is the F.I.G.H.T.S. (Faith In God Heals Troubled Souls) boxing program, though it offers other help such as tutoring assistance, nutritional tips, and community engagement opportunities. Fighting Chance is free to everyone in the community, Franklin said.

Athletes involved in the program have competed in major tournaments across the nation and world–performing relatively well, collecting an array of honors. According to Franklin, young boxers have competed in the National Silver Gloves, National PAL, Ringside World Championships, USA Boxing, and Olympic tournaments.

Photo/Anthony Victoria: Rayshaun Thomas striking a pose as he prepares to spar during a training session at the Project Fighting Chance Gym at the Home of Neighborly Service in San Bernardino.

“They’ve put San Bernardino on the map,” Franklin said of his boxers. “They’re showing people out there that good things can happen in our city.”

Before linking up with Project Fighting Chance, Rayshaun Thomas, 20, spent his time getting into fights with people on the streets. He came looking for trouble, but instead found an outlet that allowed him to be himself.

“Some friends and I were talking tough, saying we would come into the gym and beat up their boxers. Of course, we ended up getting beat up. They didn’t come back after that, but I decided to come back and stay out of trouble. The experience humbled me and introduced me to people that have true respect. ”

Thomas said the hardest part of boxing is sparring with other fighters. “There’s always someone better,” he said. “So it humbles and pushes you to work harder and get better. [Sparring] helps you stay sharp.”

The reward for his mentorship, Franklin said, is watching people like Thomas succeed.

“He’s a good kid from tough neighborhood, like many of these kids,” he said. “Everyone won’t be a champion. But we’re giving them tools to be champions in life.”

The boxing club meets from 4-6 p.m. Mondays through Friday at the Home of Neighborly Service, located at 839 N. Mt. Vernon Avenue. Those looking to help the program through volunteering or sponsorships could contact Ian Franklin at (909) 496-6029.

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