RPAL boxing program helps youth overcome fears, gain confidence

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Three young Richmond boxers from the Richmond Police Activities League boxed last Saturday at an exhibition hosted by the RPAL.

The exhibition, which welcomed fighters from different boxing clubs and gyms, featured 15 bouts with varying age and weight divisions. RPAL’s Anthony J. Bryant, Vonnie Davison and Delleon Brown are all local talent groomed by John Island, the head coach and coordinator of the boxing program. For some it was their first bout.

“These guys were already ready, they train year round,” Island said. “Some train harder than others as you already know but these guys are ready year round.”

Bryant had fought before, but confessed he felt nervous before his fight. Island said that’s pretty normal.

“You know you’re prepared but you just don’t know what the other guy is bringing to the table,” he said. “So you get those nervous jitters and sometimes you can get a little stage fright, if you will, everybody is around watching and it’s just not like fighting in the comfort of your own gym.”

Bryant won anyway. And despite the nervousness, Bryant later said he felt good about the fight. Experience helped. Bryant told a story about going up against another fighter who had 12 fights under his belt.

“I was kind of nervous because the dude had 12 fights and you know me, how hard I’ve been training,” Bryant said. “I go in there and I don’t even think about that, I go in there and, I know I gotta move, I gotta move, ” he said as he got into a boxing stance and shifted from side to side as if evading an opponents attack. “I gotta tag him, I gotta defend myself.”

Defending themselves, whether from others physically harming them or from the pressures of society, is an unavoidable part of life for many of the RPAL’s boxers.

Brown has been boxing for three years and says the sport is all about winning.

“It’s a battle, it’s like gladiator, it’s like natural selection,” he said. “It’s survival of the fittest.”

And he loves it, even if it means getting knocked around in the ring from time to time.

“Everything,” he said. “Even being hit sometimes. Boxing is not just boxing. At least in different things it’s about maturity, it’s about manhood. It’s a gateway for different things.”

With that comes the discipline to eat proper foods, maintain a strict workout and rest appropriately.

“Boxing, to be honest with you, it is like a religion and your craft has to be your gospel,” Island said. “It’s a real strict discipline, you know, going to bed a particular time, watching the foods that you eat.

The program has helped Brown avoid the pitfalls that some youth fall victim to in Richmond.

“To me boxing is a way of life,” he said. “To me boxing is my dream. School is a secondary thing — my mom likes school, but other than boxing I would probably would be doing something that I shouldn’t be doing.”

Boxing helps Bryant keep busy and positive. He gets excited with the preparation process.

“You know this is wartime and you just get ready, you get pumped up man,” he said. “I’m thinking about going in and handling my business, making my coach and my teammates proud, and winning some trophies.”

The hard work and training paid off for all three RPAL boxers as all three defeated their opponents. Island has been a part of the organization for five years and in the case of these three boxers, he was there every step of the way, not just on Saturday but in training.

“I would like to think that my role here in the community is a good one, a strong one,” he said. “We get the youth in from off the streets to try to get away from gang activities and others things that may put our youth at risk.”

Island says that if he were to be in love with anything, it would have to be boxing.

“Boxing is everything,” he said. “Eat, live and sleep boxing. This is all that I do. This is my love. This is from my heart.”

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