Youth boxing program teaches life skills, showcases thousands at weekly fights in Chicago parks

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Thousands of kids from 22 gyms are taking the ring at weekly boxing showcases in Chicago, representing their neighborhoods from July to December each year.

At the Chicago Park District Boxing Program's final outdoor fights last week, young boxers ages 8-18 gathered and fought at Davis Square Park in Back of the Yards.

Thomas Hayes, the boxing program's event coordinator, has been organizing the youth showcases since he retired from the professional circuit in 2011 with a win-loss record of 26-2.

"To me, it's not just a sport. It's a life changing moment," Hayes said. "Because in life, you get knocked down just like in the ring. You can always get back up, get back in the fight."

Abraham Bucio, a 19-year-old boxer who grew up in the program, recently won the Chicago Golden Gloves competition in the 141-pound weight class and the Chicago citywide tournament.

"How I train for a fight: I get up at 5 a.m. Run. Get home 6:30. Shower. Eat. Leave the house by 7. I get home from school. Do my homework. Come to the gym. And that's literally every day," Bucio said.

Bucio said his hard work and determination comes from his trainer, Eddie Davis, who spent decades on boxing promoter Don King's staff before being hired to run the gym at Davis Square Park.

"Managing to be a trainer is hard because you have to deal with individuals from all kind of backgrounds. And you have to be a father, older brother, uncle, all rolled up in one," said Davis.

Bucio plans to go pro once he finishes his biology degree at Northeastern Illinois University.

Just like it gave Bucio a passion from a young age, Hayes said the boxing program has a positive impact on every young person who participates.

"I see kids are more focused. I see kids getting their frustrations out. I see kids getting in shape, taking more to their health," Hayes said.

"Some of the kids that I've trained, you know, they have aggression toward each other. All that stuff. You stick them together in a boxing ring, and let them get their aggression out, they'll be the best of friends afterwards."

The next fighting showcase is this Thursday, Sept. 26, from 7-9 p.m. at Bessemer Park in the South Chicago neighborhood. It's free and open to the public.

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From July to December each year, around 3,000 kids from 22 gyms participate in the Chicago Park District Boxing Program, representing their neighborhoods at weekly boxing showcases.

Last week, at the final outdoor fights of the year, young boxers from eight to 18 years old gathered and fought at Davis Square Park in Back of the Yards.
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