Becoming A Man: Sports Edition helps at-risk youth in Chicago

February 28, 2013 (CHICAGO)

The Chicago youth organization also got a big boost from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel pledged that the City of Chicago would contribute $2 million to expand the program.

Founder Anthony Ramirez DiVittorio is a tough-as-nails drill sergeant and tender-hearted motivator.

"You can stop. That's OK," DiVittorio tells his kids. "But don't quit."

"I started to combine clinical counseling, youth engagement activities and men's work we call it from head to heart and I stirred it all in a pot and BAM formed out of it," Di Vittorio said.

BAM- Sports Edition is a character education program run by the non-profits Youth Guidance and World Sport Chicago for at-risk young men. Students are active, learning stamina, self-determination and positive anger expression.

"You feel tired or like, 'I can't do that, my arms hurt,' and you can't go no more, you got a partner right there to motivate you and inspire you to keep going," Ronald Ligon, sophomore at Harper High School, said.

"Years ago, I had this thing like I'd try something and if it don't fit me like alright I'm done. I quit. So he taught me like, don't give up. Keep going. Dig deeper," Arjay Howard, sophomore, Harper High School, said.

DiVittorio developed BAM in 2001 while working as a psychologist at Roberto Clemente High School. Since then, the program has expanded to 16 CPS schools -- including Harper High School in Englewood. Researchers at the University Of Chicago Crime Lab used school and arrest records to track results.

"We measured a reduction in violent offending during the time of the intervention of more than 40%. We also saw that kids were more engaged in school which largely were bringing them to the bottom of the grade curve and we saw when we looked forward that kids were less likely to show up in a school that was connected to the juvenile justice system," Harold Pollack, University of Chicago Crime Lab, said.

Students say the male mentoring as key.

"I was going to sleep in school, coming late, not finishing homework, things like that. After like a month, it changed me. I was more mature and I was around a lot of positive people. They kind of made me focus on what was important," Dontavious Smith, 16, said.

The city's additional investment will give an additional 5,500 at-risk youth access to the program and will help pay for a new tutoring component to help shore up student's academics.

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