San Rafael boxing program offers ‘pro-social’ impact
As would be expected a month before a professional boxing fight, Iris Contreras found herself in a gym, boxing.
But Contreras, 20, one of just two Latina professional boxers in Northern California, wasn’t working on her own form but instead working with dozens of young people — including several women — as part of the new Canal Friday Night Boxing program.
“It means a lot to me, especially because it’s in Marin. I grew up in the Canal,” said Contreras, who has a fight scheduled on April 21 at the Pleasanton Fairgrounds. “I moved when I was 11, but I was raised here in the Canal, so it’s great to be able to give back to the community.”
Launched with opening night festivities March 16, the Canal Friday Night Boxing program at the Albert J. Boro Community Center gym, is a partnership between the Canal Welcome Center and the Marin County Probation Department.
Started to serve young people primarily in the Canal neighborhood, it is principally the brainchild of the community itself, which nearly a decade ago brought the idea of having a safe place for teens in the area to bring their stress into a positive environment, organizers said.
“About eight years ago was when the community and parents from the Canal neighborhood approached me,” said David Escobar, director of programs and operations at the Canal Welcome Center. “At the time, I was working as an aide to Supervisor (Steve) Kinsey, and they wanted more activities in the community.”
“I had a huge interest in boxing, I used to box in Oakland and San Francisco,” said Escobar, who is also a certified trainer with USA Boxing. “I was training for the Golden Gloves but never got there, but I did know that it was a good thing because it kept me out of trouble and kept a lot of guys I knew out of trouble. I met Filemon Contreras and he was interested in starting a boxing program, along with Homer Hall. They’re both ex-professional boxers.”
Contreras’ daughter is Iris Contreras. She took up her father’s craft as she entered her teenage years, and is now giving back both as a volunteer with the Friday night boxing program and as a positive example for women and girls in the community.
“The holy grail of people who are going go to state prison are people who don’t have pro-social activities, have negative peers and negative, criminal thoughts — that’s the holy grail of recidivism,” Marin County Chief Probation Officer Michael Daly said. “When you have those three combined, you’re going to fail on probation.
“This boxing program offers a pro-social activity — a positive. You have a lot of positive people around you like (Escobar) and (Canal Welcome Center executive director) Douglas (Mundo) and Iris, who are role models to people and their peers.”
Daly and the probation department teamed up with the CWC to make the boxing program become a reality. The program, which had its second week of action this past Friday, uses equipment provided by the probation department.
“The probation department bought that equipment. I have a fund through the state that is specifically allocated for keeping people out of state prison and I get to spend that money how I want,” Daly said. “I felt this was a good program to keep people off probation and certainly out of state prison. Some of the young people that are going to be referred to this program are people who are on probation who could have a state prison exposure.”
Aside from keeping people in a positive environment, there are many physical benefits from the program.
Hall, the former professional, said the workout routine is called “Boxercise.” He said he started the program at the University of San Francisco.
“It gets them to do some hitting of the mitts, just to get the cardio up, stretching, ideas on how to work out and get some weight loss. We’ll talk about diet,” Hall said. “Some of it is just get them into the fact that they can do this. Anybody can do this. It’s not about how hard you hit. It’s the basic skills, the fundamentals.”
Medical clearance is required to participate. Liability falls to USA Boxing and CWC.
While boxing of course offers positives as far as cardiovascular health and overall fitness, those involved believe the program can be beneficial in many different parts of life for those involved.
“I see this not just as a positive place to train and get together and have fun, but it’s also a resource center, and it’s going to be good for the community,” Daly said. “This is for prevention and these dollars are well invested. I believe strongly in that.”
Escobar said he believes people know the physical benefits of boxing, but that this program offers more than that.
“This is something much deeper, because it’s multi-faceted approach that (the probation department) has toward prevention,” he said. “It’s not just boxing. It has a multi-pronged approach, as far as mentorship, leadership development, and innovative other projects. Boxing is just one piece.”
Mundo said, “It’s not only for the youth that are probably on probation, but we want to also use this as a fitness program as well, an opportunity to get out of their stress. We want ensure that youth and women and different ages, as well, will have the opportunity to participate.”
FIGHTING FOR WOMEN
Escobar said about 40 people registered on opening night, including about 12 women, or “enough for a women’s team.”
With Iris Contreras taking a prominent role with the program, organizers hope to attract many female residents to the program.
“It’s huge, especially now that women’s boxing has become bigger,” Contreras said. “Boxing isn’t just a male sport, it’s also a female sport. Not a lot of people see it like that. I saw a lot of girls there and think it’s a huge opportunity for them.”
With Contreras and Dalia Gomez, another Latina boxer in the area, the role models are there.
“We had one or two moms there who had only ever watched boxing and they were starting at the basics. We’re going to need some child care because these women are bringing their children with them in order to go work with Iris,” Escobar said. “Iris has been really inspiring for them, because they’d never seen someone from the community — a female, professional boxer — take that leadership like Iris did. It was pretty amazing.”
San Rafael Mayor Gary Phillips confirmed the city’s support for the program with the donation of the space at the Boro Center. Organizers plan additional fundraising efforts.
“The equipment, possibly a ring, possibly offsetting some of the costs for the volunteers and coaches … we’ll be engaging in some money asks,” Daly said. “The whole county should come together and support it, it’s historic.”
By Mark C. Volain