“The body,” yells out Pete Chavez, “no head hits.” He’s overseeing 15 kids, some as young as 8, bouncing back and forth, throwing punches and dodging them.
It’s a busy Saturday morning at his Chavez Boxing Gym, located at 5512 N. 7th Ave. Chavez is the owner and trainer. His 21-year-old son, Conrad, also is a licensed trainer. Larry Chaves and Holly Farrar help out as coaches.
Youthful energy is in the air as the coaches watch and also engage in sparring with the kids. Everyone looks busy, focused, like they have a purpose. “Boxing takes a lot of strength, a lot of endurance,” says Chavez. Overhead the music motivates but doesn’t overpower the workout.
Chavez didn’t start out thinking he would one day open a boxing gym, it just happened that he met the right people at the right time. While honing his own boxing career—he’s a former Golden Gloves Champion and still fights—Chavez became a personal trainer. He leased space from his church and then started teaching kids there how to box.
When his son brought a friend over and asked his dad to help him train, Chavez agreed. That led to a profile in a local paper, which led to one of his clients suggesting Chavez start a nonprofit. Chavez said he had no idea how to do that and his client, a lawyer, offered to help. Thus began the Chavez Boxing Foundation.
That was in 2007. Since then Chavez can’t quite calculate how many kids he’s coached through the years, but needless to say, there have been quite a few.
Today it remains a family affair and that family now includes the young boxers who find their way to his gym either through family members or the courts. “We have rules,” he says, such as no swearing. Plus, each boxer must maintain a 2.0 grade point average at school. “We make them sign a contract about getting good grades,” because, Chavez says, “It’s not just about boxing, it’s about focusing.”
Training takes place every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 5 to 6:30 p.m. On Saturdays they train from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Boxers are only allowed to miss two practices a month.
“Usually when they get here, I expect them to be warmed up and hands wrapped,” Chavez explains. Then he leads them through a series of exercises that don’t always include boxing gloves. Push-ups with one hand on a rubber ball strengthens their core. He teaches them how to focus and plan their moves. He also works on balance and stamina. For the ones who compete in monthly boxing matches he requires five days a week of training.
“It’s more than just throwing punches,” says Farrar, who grew up near 4th Street and Colter. Ferrar moved to San Diego and graduate from college with a degree in Science and Kinesiology. She recalls being with her 83-year-old grandmother, who lived there, weeks before the elderly woman died. Her grandmother confessed that she had always wanted to learn how to box.
Farrar was surprised. “She was just this little teeny tiny woman and she decorated cakes and sewed for a living.” But as a family photo reveals, at 22, her grandmother posed for a photo on the beach in San Diego in a boxing stance. To Farrar it was fate. “Without her, I wouldn’t be here.”
When she returned to Arizona after her college graduation her father pointed out the Chavez Boxing Gym. Chavez became her personal trainer and then her friend.
“We got to know each other and he said, ‘You should really meet my kids,’” referring to his group of young boxers. “I met the kids, fell in love with them and I’ve been with them ever since,” she smiles.
That was nearly two years ago. He invited her to join his board of directors and Farrar became the treasurer for the foundation. Six people plus Chavez serve on the board.
Ferrar also tutors the kids to help them maintain that 2.0 GPA. In addition to showing dedication to boxing she tells them, “It takes dedication to find a job or finish your education.”
“We have a lot of smart kids,” Chavez says and nods at Alfredo Valdivia. “He’s the first one (in his family) to graduate high school and now he’s at Phoenix College.”
Chavez also helped Valdivia with a $2,400 scholarship from the Melyssa Gastelum Scholarship Fund. Gastelum had been another client of his and was just 17 when she died in an accident. “She was such a good kid,” Chavez remembers. “She wanted to go to college.” Her family helped him set up a scholarship in her name.
Valdivia’s been training with Chavez for four years. He likes the good workouts and now his 16-year-old brother, Randall, is learning to box as well. Valdivia credits what he’s learned in boxing with helping him in college. “Whenever I’m learning something new and I don’t get it, sometimes I feel like going and doing something else, then I keep trying.”
It’s that dedication and discipline Chavez hopes to instill in each of his boxers. And because most of them come from single-parent and low-income homes, he hopes to raise boxing club scholarships for them. The monthly cost, his board estimates, is just $20 a month or $240 a year. That covers the equipment, rent and trainers. The program is called Sponsor a Boxer.
“That project has been my baby,” says Farrar. She created a video for the gym’s YouTube channel, CBF 85013. “All of the donations are tax deductible,” she says and adds, “Ideally we’re looking for a year commitment.”
Sponsors also will be able to watch videos of the kids as they explain how boxing and the gym helps them. Farrar adds that as a sponsor, “You get a chance to interact with them. Some of the sponsors come to the gym or the fights and watch the kids.” The foundation hopes to get at least 15 sponsors for this year.
You can Like Chavez Boxing Foundation on Facebook and/or follow them on Twitter @CBF2012Boxing.