San Diego, CA_7/9/2013_ABC Youth Foundation Jennifer Estrada, 16, of San Diego rolls with the punches during training at the Any Body Can Youth Foundation headquarters in Grant Hill. Founded by boxing legend Archie Moore in 1957, the ABC Youth Foundation offers an after-school program, consisting of boxing and tutoring, for at-risk youth. Misael Virgen/ UT San Diego Misael Virgen
For weeks, the little boy had been reluctant to divulge his secret.
However, the weight became unbearable, facade difficult to maintain. So, the little boy elected to confide despite fearing judgment.
“You know, coach, I’m not afraid of anything. I can handle my own,” the little boy spouts to Billy Moore, pounding the center of his chest, fist clenched.
“I’m in the third grade, but I can’t even read at a first-grade level.”
Moore, Any Body Can Youth Foundation boxing gym owner and long-time boxing instructor, sinks back into his chair, listening.
“My mother doesn’t know it, but late at night, I crawl out of my window and I go outside and I look up at the sky and I say, “please help me read.’”
A Safe Haven
For roughly two decades, Moore has opened the doors of the ABC to misguided adolescents in the Stockton community.
Small but tidy, the 1,300 square-foot, beige-colored facility offers a comprehensive after-school program fractioned into two components.
Participants receive one-on-one tutoring in the learning center — chock-full of textbooks and computers at their disposal — and boxing instruction in the facility’s gym from a staff of licensed educators and boxing trainers.
In addition to instruction, help is available. Moore and his staff often moonlight as mentors and counselors, comforting, consoling and empowering kids who need a shoulder to cry or lean on or a confidant.
“I’ve been called to do it,” Moore said. “Our kids are in trouble, a lot of trouble. This program saves lives.”
ABC was founded by Archie Moore — Billy’s father — in 1957.
Undoubtedly, it’s a hefty burden and responsibility — chaperoning 50 regulars whom enter the program cloaked with rigid exteriors — but Moore refuses to view it as such.
The San Diego resident and professional boxer witnessed the deterioration of drug-and-gang-infested areas and the toll it had on the youth, predicting an epidemic in the United States, according to Billy.
Fearful, he created a prevention program, one that would offer a more positive, productive outlet for kids to counteract idle bodies and minds.
It began with a sport “the Old Mongoose” excelled in.
“Boxing is much like life,” said the late light heavyweight World Champion, who holds the record for most career knockouts (131), “where one learns through trial and error. But the best conditioned individual in boxing, as in life, will usually be the victor.”
According to Billy, his father believed boxing was the perfect tool to combat the rigors of life because, when grasped, the fundamentals of boxing provide discipline, confidence, self-reliance and lessons about character, life and citizenship.
“I will teach these kids how to step off in life with their best foot forward, “ Archie would say, “without cowardice, but with courage and dignity.”
The concept engrained in him, Billy assumed the reigns of the program in the early 90’s, continuing the work of his father, who would pass away in 1998 at the age of 81-years old.
Under his guidance, ABC moved several locations in Stockton before settling in the facility on Market Street. In addition, with the help of business partner Dr. Bob Murad, he established a 15-member board of directors and officially instituted a learning center, which transformed the then-exclusive boxing gym.
“The teacher-student ratio has decreased in this area, so the kids aren’t receiving as much attention or enough attention as they need, especially the ones that are on the perimeter of the classroom. They’re falling behind,” said lAnnieUMareska, operating manager, who joined ABC two years ago.
“Here, students that receive one-on-one help that they may be lacking without that structured classroom atmosphere that may discourage them from asking questions or actively participating. In addition, they’re surrounded by a number of positive influences and role models.”
A graduate of lCarnegie Mellon University, iMareska serves as the primary director of the learning center. She coordinates daily programming.
“This place is home away from home to me,” said LeMar Slater, a tutor.
“I wholeheartedly believe in this program because I witnessed it first-hand. That’s what brings me back: I want to give back and make a difference in a kid’s life.”
Like the participants, Slater grew up in San Diego and blossomed at ABC. Applying the life lessons learned, he graduated valedictorian in high school and an honors graduate of Mathematics at Moorehouse College. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree at San Diego State University.
Packing a Punch
The boxing gym is an extension of the learning center.
Inside, Billy proscribes profanity. And elicits respect, only replying to answers capped by “sir” — a formality teaching good, moral values. Before each session, Billy and the kids review “the concept.”
Together, the group recites the pledge of allegiance before spouting off the basis of ABC and the do’s and don’ts of model citizens.
“Put on your thinking caps,” Billy normally advises.
He and Arthur Wilson among other boxing coaches educate participants on the fundamentals of boxing in the ring with music blaring in the background. Lessons include footwork, technique, the core punches, conditioning, defense and shadow boxing.
“When you look at boxing, on the surface, you see a regular sport, just like anything else,” Wilson said.
“But what you learn in the ring translates over into society. You learn about discipline, how to be disciplined, how to take care of your body, independency and responsibility.”
Together, the two instructors boast 65 plus years of boxing experience.
“Just like I know the sun is going to come up each day,” Billy said, “I know he’ll (Arthur) be here.”
And so will Billy.
Two years later, the little boy appears again, confiding once more to Billy, but with a pair of bystanders.
“I can read at the fifth grade-level like I’m supposed to!” he acknowledges, brimming with confidence and displaying a smile a mile long.
“I remember dropping him off at his home one time,” Moore explains.
“His mother asks, “Are you coming to school tomorrow? He is receiving an award. An award, I ask, confused. She says yes, a reading award.’”
The little boy’s fourth most improved reading award, actually.
“That’s so great that you’re doing so well,” one bystander chimes in, giving the little boy a high-five. “Are you excited for the next grade this year?”
“I have to repeat,” the little boy responds.
“The only reason I have to repeat is because I missed too many days.”
Moore gingerly rubs the top of the little boy’s head, comforting him like he did the very first time, when the little boy informed Billy of his reading impairment.
“Don’t worry,” Billy reassures him.
“We’ll take care of it. Everything is going to be okay.”