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Boxing classes help bullied teens build self-esteem
Originally published January 31, 2012 at 7:12 pm Updated January 31, 2012 at 9:16 pm
These teens don't spar with each other. They spar with their feelings.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The first jabs landed politely, like the boxing students were tapping the punching bags on the shoulders instead of pummeling them.
Then, the music started blasting — hard, driving beats, the kind that push everyone in the club onto the dance floor. Ronnell “Bigg Ron” Jones, an aptly named wall of a man, barked instructions over the music.
“Jab, right-handed! Jab, right-handed! Jab, right-handed! Who’s the champ”
“I’m the champ,” a couple of kids called out meekly.
“I don’t believe you. I don’t believe you,” Bigg Ron goaded. “WHO’S THE CHAMP”
“I’M THE CHAMP!” 14 teenagers cried out in one voice.
As Annie Beurman punched at the bag in front of her, she couldn’t help but think: “Nobody better mess with me.”
The new Fight Club classes at Title Boxing Club in Prairie Village, Kan., are free to teens who are being bullied, teens wanting to stand up for friends being bullied and any teen needing to let off a little steam.
It’s not a self-defense class. Holly Reynolds, the woman who started the program, can’t call it that for legal reasons. It’s not about fighting, either, though Reynolds gave it the same name as the 1999 Brad Pitt movie about underground fight clubs.
This Fight Club is about getting fit, feeling strong and fighting the good fight, she said.
These teens don’t spar with each other. They spar with their feelings.
And a lot of anger gets left in those sweaty boxing gloves.
“People tried to get me to change the name to make it more accessible, but I was very determined,” Reynolds said. “That was the name that came to my head, because growing up is a fight. You’ve got to fight to be heard, you’ve got to fight to be understood. Some of these kids have to fight to get themselves out of bed in the morning and drag themselves to school. It’s a constant struggle.
“The metaphor went well with what’re doing. We’re not necessarily telling these kids go out and fight. We’re giving them the mind-body connection that comes from boxing and kickboxing.”
A boost of confidence is what Kelli Beurman, a grade schoolteacher from Olathe, Kan., wants for her daughter, Annie, who last week signed up for Fight Club. Fourteen-year-old Annie, now a freshman, has been bullied since fourth grade.
“I thought it would give her a sense of empowerment in case she would ever need to defend herself,” Beurman said. “Because part of dealing with someone who is bothering you is just knowing that you can.”
Reynolds knows the pain of being bullied. Growing up in Kansas City she was a target in high school, as was a friend who was harassed about his sexual orientation.
“I was a little chunky in high school, and I walked home every day through a neighborhood … this car full of kids would call me Jenny Craig drop-out. They’d honk their horn and yell out the window. I just got thick-skinned and let it harden me. That’s how I dealt with it,” said Reynolds, an aesthetician who runs a studio on State Line Road.
“So I know from experience that … there’s a better way to go rather than internalizing those emotions. It makes you mad at the world, really. And it doesn’t have to be that way. There are people who care.”
Those experiences kept her interested in bullying issues as an adult. She followed national cases and was especially moved by what happened to Jamey Rodemeyer, a 14-year-old in Buffalo, N.Y.
Jamey, who struggled with his sexuality, was bullied online for months. Last May he posted an anti-bullying message on YouTube.
Bullying is such a huge problem that “we’re not hoping to change the world,” Reynolds said. “Just at least create that spark.”
Boxing KO’d by doctors as too risky for kids’ and teens’ brains
By AMINA KHAN, LOS ANGELES TIMES
AUG. 29, 2011
Youth boxing is getting pummeled by pediatricians in a new policy statement opposing such pugilism as too dangerous of an athletic activity for children.
The position statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Paediatric Society argues that the high risk of concussion could damage young brains while they’re still developing.
“Pediatricians should strongly discourage boxing participation among their patients and guide them toward alternative sport and recreational activities that do not encourage intentional head injuries,” coauthors Laura Purcell and Claire LeBlanc, both doctors affiliated with the Canadian Paediatric Society, wrote in the journal Pediatrics.
More than 18,000 children under age 19 were registered with USA Boxing, according to the paper. This may not sound like a huge number when compared with the number of school-age kids involved in sports like football or baseball.
But for disadvantaged youth in particular, the authors point out, boxing often gives kids and teens an appealing alternative to gang-related activity. The sport provides participants with exercise, self-discipline and self-confidence, along with a social environment away from the streets.
“I think that’s an incredibly compelling argument. I think it’s very very tough [to ignore the benefits of boxing],” said Dr. Danelle Fisher, vice chair of pediatrics at Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, who was not involved in the paper. “Some of these kids, just by getting them off the street, are so much safer.”
“But while you’re getting them out of the neighborhood where there are gangs, drugs and other dangers,” she added, “you want to make sure you’re not also putting them at risk.”
Even though other sports, like football or soccer, may have higher overall injury risk, boxing specifically targets the head and torso -- meaning injuries to the head are much more frequent. Repeated concussions, Fisher said, can lead to seizures, dementia and corrupt the brain’s information processing abilities.
And as the paper’s authors point out, younger brains may be more at risk of damage.
“The adolescent brain is still a developing organism. There’s even some evidence that the brain continues to develop into the early 20s,” Fisher said.
Studies show that high school football and soccer players had more prolonged memory dysfunction than college players, and that high school athletes with a concussion take more than twice as much time for their brains to recover as college athletes.
Fisher also called the idea of training youth to punch others rather than encouraging young people to focus on less violent, teamwork-oriented sports “not so fantastically ideal.”
“The bottom line is, boxing is violent,” she said.
The paper recommends that pediatricians steer their patients away from boxing to other sports, like swimming or basketball, and that doctors educate patients, parents and coaches about the medical risks.As to whether the Pediatrics paper would make a difference, Fisher said, “Hopefully over time we’ll see a decrease in these injuries -- and that’s hopefully going to be the proof in the pudding.”
Gutierrez, Lisa. “Boxing Classes Help Bullied Teens Build
Self-Esteem.” The Seattle Times, The Seattle Times
Company, 31 Jan. 2012, www.seattletimes.com/seattle-
Khan, Amina. “Boxing KO'd by Doctors as Too Risky for Kids'
and Teens' Brains.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles
Times, 29 Aug. 2011, www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-
Rhodes, Adam. “Boxing for Kids: the Physical, Pshycological
and Social Benefits in 2019.” FightingReport.com, 22 Oct.