Don’t say San Bernardino never gets positive headlines.
The city has a fighting chance for some positive press coming up in the last week of June.
Three young boxers will represent the city’s Project Fighting Chance program in the 2017 USA Boxing Junior Olympics in Charleston, West Virginia — and they’re taking the “San Bernardino Strong” message with them.
The three top amateur boxing contenders, Kenny Lobatoz, 10, of Rialto, and “Terrible” Terry Washington, 13, and Lolo Harris, 13, both of San Bernardino, will compete in the event.
The tournament, the pathway to the Olympic Games, runs from June 25 through July 1.
“We want to bring the Junior Olympic champions back to San Bernardino, where there has been so much bad press,” said Fighting Chance CEO/President Ian Franklin.
“But we want to take the ‘SB Strong’ message across the country with us, and we need to have the city behind us,” he added. “We want to let people know we’re from San Bernardino and although all you hear is negativity, here we are.”
Ian said he wanted to challenge the community.
The Fighting Chance after-school program, a safe haven that provides life lessons and changes lives, was founded in 1999 by Ian, offering at-risk kids ages 8-17 a support system while helping them become positive, contributing members of the community.
You can check out the Fighting Chance video from KVCR-TV: https://vimeo.com/219947823/e8701319f0
Board member Terry Boykins said the young athletes are aware of their ambassadorship.
“With all the things going on in San Bernardino and all the talk about San Bernardino, they’re carrying a bigger glove to the Junior Olympics,” Terry said.
“We need to get the ‘SB Strong’ on their uniforms — got to get those patches.”
The nonprofit provides a variety of athletic programs for boys and girls, including the popular boxing program, F.I.G.H.T.S. (Faith in God Heals Troubled Souls).
Since its inception, the program has helped about 4,000 youths.
The premise is straightforward and well-rounded.
Most of these kids were “hanging out on the streets” when Ian found them.
Now they have a structured after-school activity they look forward to.
On Thursday, when photographer Frank Perez and I visited, there were lots of smiles.
“Terrible” Terry, a seventh-grader at Del Vallejo Middle School who weighs in at 75 pounds, has been in the boxing program “four-and-a-half years, going on five.”
Ian said that Terry has grown in all ways.
“His self-esteem is so much better, he’s very polite and courteous,” Ian said.
Lorenzo Harris, whose son is Lolo, said that whenever his son is in the ring, he’s excited for him.
On this day, the boys took turns in sparring sessions, while coaches and dads looked on.
Raymond Lobatoz, whose son, Kenny, is one of the Junior Olympics contenders, said he was extremely proud of his son.
Kenny went to the National Silver Gloves Tournament in Kansas City, Missouri, in February.
It was just one of the honors the Kelley Elementary School fifth-grader has earned since starting the program.
But the club is about more than just boxing — it’s about character, integrity, a spiritual core.
“These kids aren’t getting in fights, they are good at conflict resolution and very good at being who they are — they have good self-esteem,” Ian said.
The program also offers healthy snacks and a meal before kids leave.
Fighting Chance, which has partnered with Home of Neighborly Service, provides its community services in classrooms at the back of the Neighborly Service facility, 1263 Union St. in San Bernardino.
Fighting Chance is free to all and is funded by donations and sponsorships.
Although funding comes from donations, more sponsorships and donations are desperately needed to get these young champions to the Junior Olympics.
Michel Nolan appears in The Sun on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MichelNolan.
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What: Project Fighting Chance kids competing in the Junior Olympics in Charleston, West Virginia
When: Trip extends from June 24 through July 2