CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Duke it Out Boxing Club started out of Coach Duke’s garage in 2018, with just him and three boxers. Now, it is a nonprofit that works with more than 25 boxers of all ages.
The goal of the gym is more than just making kids better boxers, it’s also to help them grow into well-rounded adults.
“We took the boxing fundamentals, and we wanted to use that to help kids who are dealing with other issues aside from just the boxing side. So, we started working with kids who had self-esteem issues, kids who had no role models, kids that came from single-parents homes, low income housing. We’re just trying to reduce the statistics of keeping kids from early pregnancy, poverty, dealing with gangs, drug usage, and so forth,” said Joe De La Paz, or “Coach Joe,” as he’s known at the gym.
Coach Joe said the coaches work with the kids to set and achieve goals in school and eventually as a career.
“It helps them with school, being more disciplined, having more respect, and achieving goals that they weren’t necessarily planning for,” he said. “With our organization, when they come in, we give them ideas of what are they going to be when they grow up, and how to achieve that. So, when we work with them in the ring and outside the ring, it helps them.”
Kids of all ages can understand that what they learn in the gym helps them outside of it.
“School and boxing kind of work the same, you’ve got to learn in your mind,” said 7-year-old Eric “Knockout King” Martinez.
“They’ve taught us about how most things are mental. To be in boxing, you’ve got to be smarter in here, and outside too. That goes for school, if you’re not passing, you can’t do boxing. Second, if you’re not going to listen in school, what makes you think you’re going to listen in boxing?” said 15-year-old Troivonie Garcia.
Garcia has taken his coaches’ lessons to heart, and set his sights on boxing professionally. That keeps him working hard in the gym and in school to achieve his goals.
“This is my future right here. There’s days that I don’t even feel like getting out of bed, I don’t want to go to school, I go and then I don’t feel like going to the gym. But, then I remember this is my future, my mom tells me, ‘have a backup plan,’ I don’t want one, I don’t need one. This is my future right here, I’m going to make this happen. So, if I’ve got 20 percent in my body, I’m going to give that 20 percent, and I’m going to give it my all”
For the younger kids, older boxers, like Garcia, and 26-year-old Andrew Luis are also there to help guide them.
“I can remember most of my little moments starting off, especially starting off with [Coach] Duke, I remember those moments and I look at these kids, and it’s crazy. I used to be that small and I grow, now I’m still here, and I’m still in love with the sport, and I’m still going. I want to see them do that too,” Garcia said.
“[Boxing] keeps me disciplined, and I just want to be a role model for the children. A lot of them look up to me, even boxers from the past. They look up to me, ask me for advice, and I’ll even stop in the middle of my workout just to help them,” Luis said.
Luis calls the environment in the gym a “family.” For some boxers, that term is literal.
“I like going in the ring, and going against another opponent, and there’s coaches to guide me against the opponent,” said Brandyn De La Paz, Coach Joe’s 12-year-old son. “I get to meet new people, and learn new things when I get here.”
The coaches try to foster that environment and get the boxers comfortable being with each other.
“We always have them understand that they’re part of a brotherhood, and a sisterhood that’s pretty much going to last forever,” Coach Joe said.
Every boxer has a different reason they enjoy the sport.
“I just love the sport, I love going into the ring, being able to take my anger out on some things, punch someone without getting in trouble,” Garcia said.
“You get to be one-vs-one, to get each person to represent the club,” Martinez said.
Regardless of what keeps them coming back, Coach Joe said the growth they see makes all their hard work worth it.
“It’s great seeing them come in from day one, and seeing them change every day they come in, because each day they come in and they get better, they get stronger, and they build confidence,” he said. “Seeing those kids get better and better at life, it helps us understand that what we’re doing for the love of the sport and passion of the sport is paying off in the long run, because we want them to be successful, and not become another statistic. So, it’s an awesome feeling to see them achieve success when they win fights, because they put in the hard work and dedication, or when they’re succeeding in school too.”
Duke it Out Boxing Club can be found at 4528 Baldwin Blvd. in Corpus Christi. Since the gym is a nonprofit, it relies on donations from community members and businesses to remain operational. To learn more about the gym, visit its website or Facebook page.