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KID GLOVES : In the Basement of an Anaheim Church, Barrio Boys Are Taught How to Box, So That Out on the Streets, the Real Fighting Ends.

November 19, 1987|STEVE EMMONS | Times Staff Writer

. . . Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

--Matthew 5:39

Try that in the basement of the First Presbyterian Church of Anaheim and you'll wind up flat on your back.

That's where they've been teaching the local barrio kids how to smite and countersmite since 1979, when the first Anaheim Athletic Club boxing ring was installed.

"It's fun, and it's good for me," says 11-year-old Guadalberto Herrera of Santa Ana. "My parents don't want me to go with gangs.

"When I first started, I didn't know nothing." Now, after five or six months, he has won two bouts and lost two.

The bruises and bloody noses don't hurt that much, he says. "Sometimes I cry, but it's because I lose."

The club was formed by the church and city government with youngsters like Guadalberto in mind--an effort to curb street violence in the barrio. In later years, however, it has acquired a wider clientele.

Some of the boys and men come from outside the downtown neighborhood and occasionally from other cities. At peak times--summer and right after the latest "Rocky" sequel--as many as 80 men and boys may pack into the three small workout and sparring rooms.

Still, the flavor of the club remains distinctly Latino, due, its organizers say, to the sport's popularity among barrio boys and the club's original purpose.

"Originally," says Mike Buelna, a city community services assistant and one of the club's founders, "we just wanted to get these kids off the streets and get them interested in something." The Rev. Wayne E. Faust took over as pastor of the church in 1974 and remembers that "there had been some shootings in the barrio behind the church. There was some tension between the police and some of the people there. There was a small gang in the community, maybe six to a dozen youths."

The church itself was suffering from graffiti and from occasional broken windows and thefts in the church parking lot. "I'm not saying it was always local people," says Faust, who now leads a congregation in Santa Clara, Calif.

When the city's downtown redevelopment plan eliminated the nearby "drop-in" recreation center, the city began looking for a substitute, Faust says. "That's how the city got involved.

"We started neighborhood meetings as part of our outreach program, and we had a person from the city, Mike Buelna. We just listened to the young people," Faust says, "and it turned out the No. 1 thing they wanted was a boxing program."

In the barrio, boxing is a popular spectator sport, but Faust also attributes the youths' enthusiasm to Buelna, who had grown up in a barrio in Placentia and who had dabbled in amateur boxing in his youth.

"Mike was somewhat of a model to them," Faust says. "They liked him. He came from off the street himself."

"Personally, I love boxing," says Buelna, 48. "I used to like fighting, but I never picked a fight. In my time, we had older people interested in boxing, and when they'd see you in the street, they'd say, 'How'd you like to go in the boxing ring?' I said, 'Sure.' I enjoyed it."

With the approval of church and city officials but with no money to spend, Buelna gathered what donated equipment he could and volunteered to be both director and trainer. In April, 1979, the Anaheim Athletic Club opened three nights a week for 20 to 30 local boys, Buelna says.

"I think it made a difference," Faust says. "I think it cut down the vandalism. The graffiti was a big problem, and I don't remember seeing too much of that after the program started."

About four years later, the program had become successful enough to inspire a small city allocation for a part-time trainer--Gonzalo Garcia, 40, of Anaheim, a barber--and an assistant--Eddie Ramirez, 21, of Anaheim, a machine maintenance worker.

Garcia, an amateur boxer who started at age 8, had worked as a volunteer trainer since the program began. "In the last three years, this program looks 100% better than it did before," he says.

The city, using federal Community Block Grant funds, bought a regulation boxing ring to replace the club's substandard one and assumed the cost of liability insurance, which had been borne by the church.

Recently, the club was granted $9,000 as its share of profits from the 1984 Olympics. Garcia says he thinks the return on that investment could be future Olympic boxers.

"Boxing is like any sport," he says. "A lot of people say boxing is for kids in the street. It's not so. It's for everybody."

Garcia says that among his boxers have been the sons of an Anaheim Hills lawyer, a Fountain Valley real estate agent, an Anaheim substitute teacher.

Sparring in the ring on a recent Wednesday with Guadelbarto, whose father was urging him on in Spanish, was Craig Rosewarne, 13, of Anaheim, whose father was calling to him in a British accent.

Dave Rosewarne, who came to the United States from England in 1977, says he believes his son will turn pro eventually. His perseverance has proved, at least, that he loves boxing, Garcia says.

"When a kid's time comes to work in the ring, they find out boxing is hard," Garcia says. "They don't come back.

"But the kids who love boxing, they stay, no matter what. And they calm down too. When they learn boxing, they go out in the street and they don't fight anymore.

"We teach them boxing, we take them to the tournaments, and they get to know boxing," Garcia says. "They prepare for the fights, and I work them hard. They don't want to spend the energy fighting in the street, too."

He says that so far, no parent has complained about the tough training. "They like to bring the kids to us."

"We talk to them," Ramirez says. "We make them friends. The kids that come in, they think they're rough and tough, but they learn it's hard.

"Maybe years later you walk by them in the street and they're grown men and doing good. And that feels good."

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