In a converted Chattanooga neighborhood fire hall, boys from 10 years old through their teens come after school every day to study together, eat together and punch each other.
It may be the hitting they enjoy most.
The boxing team is the main draw for the Y-Community Action Program, a project of the Greater Chattanooga YMCA that offers mentoring and more to boys at risk of making a wrong turn in life. Participants are referred to Y-CAP through their schools or the juvenile court system. The program works. Nearly every boy who participates sees higher grades and improved school attendance.
Andy Smith is the Y-CAP regional director and heads the program, while also serving as boxing coach and mentor. His father, Joe Smith, founded the program in 1999 and still is involved as its No. 1 cheerleader, cardio coach and fundraiser.
Andy shared with us how Y-CAP is making life better for the boys it serves.
Can you give us a history of the boxing program at Y-CAP?
I boxed myself growing up over in Red Bank. Basically, I boxed from the time I was 10 until I was 16. And my dad got involved, right around when I was 14. He started helping the guys around the gym with cardio.
Well, when I stopped boxing, he got this vision that we could start our own program and really help some kids. So, in 1999 – I was 17 years old – we started the program over in Westside, College Hill Courts. At the time, that rec center was just an empty building that wasn’t being used by anybody.
Now you fast forward years later and in 2014…we were finally able to get the boxing program up under the YMCA in our Y-CAP program.
What is it about boxing that helps these boys, who come to you with some challenges in their lives, to get on a better path?
Boxing appeals to the tough kid. They have a lot of challenges, a lot of anger issues. A lot of them come from poverty.
It’s interesting how boxing sort of catches those kinds of people. There are a lot of things we try to teach them in parallel along with the boxing. Things like self-control, discipline.
Really, getting hit in the face is a lot like life. A lot of times we are going to face things and barriers in our lives that really, unfortunately aren’t fair. And, life’s going to punch us all the time. So, how we respond to that adversity shows what kind of character we have as a person.
Every single day at the end of practice, we spend at least five minutes talking about how boxing relates to your life personally. It may be stories from the Bible. It may devotional stories. It may even be something that happened in the gym that day. We talk about carrying everything they learn in the gym and applying to their lives outside the gym. What we like to say is, “When you do the right thing, success will follow.”
You’ve seen kids take these lessons to heart. What are some stories that stick out?
I think of a kid who started with us back in ’99, who was one of the very first kids that we had who grew up in College Hill Courts. He was an okay athlete, but he certainly had to work for every win that he ever got.
I saw him two weeks ago. He’s doing phenomenally. He has his own house. He has a brand new car. He works at Coca-Cola. And he attributes all that success today to what he learned in boxing. There are a lot of those stories out there.
We say we’re building champions, but we’re building champions at life. We hope they all become productive citizens in our community. That’s what we want to see.
The Power of Blue
The YMCA and Y-CAP boxing program are supported by United Way of Greater Chattanooga. BlueCross employees and the company pledged $500,000 to United Way campaigns in 2016.
Promotional content provided by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Inc. and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation, Independent Licensees of the BlueCross BlueShield Association.
By Gary Tanner for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee
Photo by Sergio Plecas for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee