Story By Charles Scott and Photos by Grant Meeks
Lil Wayne blares through the speakers at the South Dallas boxing gym one recent Thursday evening. A pack of kids sporting hoodies and sweat suits file in from a warm-up run outside and start putting on gloves, jumping rope and punching bags.
Ray Ximinez, the gym’s boxing director, scans the room with a devoted eye. Before long, a little girl wearing a pink Minnie Mouse shirt tugs at his side.
“Can I go to the bathroom?” she asks.
She is one of the hundreds of kids across Dallas and other surrounding counties that Ximinez, along with members of the Dallas Police force and other community members, have made it their mission to help. Ximinez’s gym, on C.F. Hawn Freeway, is part of the Dallas Police Athletic League (PAL), a recreational youth program aimed at crime prevention.
Dallas PAL offers programs for boys and girls ages five to 18 years old, ranging from football to robotics, in an effort to keep them away from drugs, gangs and other criminal activities.
The league “teaches them discipline, which is an important element you need in life,” said Sgt. Sheldon H. Smith, the executive director of the program. “It teaches them respect, and you need that to be successful in life.”
He said boxing is one of the premier programs that Dallas PAL offers to aspiring athletes.
A number of trophies, medals and autographed gloves line the walls of Ximinez’s gym’s lobby. But the inside of the gym feels cramped: a boxing ring consumes nearly half the training space, leaving little room for the athletes to warm up on the punching bags that hang from metal beams above.
Struggling without money
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Sgt. Smith both agree the boxing program needs more space, additional volunteers and, most of all, money.
“This is a great cause,” Rawlings said in a recent telephone interview. “It’s a great testament to a good idea.”
Dallas PAL currently exists through private donations. While the league is the official youth agency of the Dallas Police Department, it does not receive any direct funding from it.
“It’s a struggle to exist without the funding,” Sgt. Smith said. “But once we have the funding, we provide results.”
Results are what Ximinez has provided during his three years as Dallas PAL’s boxing director. He is in charge of coaching an average of 30 kids, five nights a week.
As a Dallas PAL volunteer, Ximinez coached a 10-year-old girl to win a Ring Side World Championship; a 10-year-old boy to win a Silver Glove National Championship; and a 9-year-old who recently won a regional championship.
His son, Ray Jr., won nine national world titles as an amateur; and now, as a professional at 19, he volunteers as a mentor for the athletes alongside his father through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
In total, nine of Ximinez’s athletes have won 16 boxing titles.
“I do anything I can for them,” he said.
The future leaders of Dallas
But the opportunity to compete is not just handed to these athletes. They have to earn it by adhering to Ximinez’s rules: Grades must be maintained and athletes have to stay in a healthy physical condition in order to box. Smith said one athlete recently withdrew from a Golden Gloves competition to study so he could be ready for the SATs the following morning.
“We realize the importance of education,” he said. “You’re molding a future leader for the city of Dallas.”
Back at Ximinez’s gym, a 165-pound Daniel Tonche works a bag, landing blows with the precision of a bee. He is there because he had grown tired of kids at school poking fun at his weight. It was not long ago that Tonche weighed 230-pounds and came to the gym seeking help. By working with Ximinez and other volunteers, he developed a love for boxing through his desire to lose weight.
“It was all Dallas PAL,” he said.
The league has seen its ups and downs. According to a 2007 story in the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas PAL boxing program surged in the 1960s, producing a number of Golden Glove champions. By the late 1990s, however, the program was practically dead.
It wasn’t until 2007 that Sgt. Smith had the idea to revitalize the league. He and Ximinez formed a partnership and have been working together ever since.
Mayor Rawlings called the new league “a great rebirth for the city of Dallas.” He is impressed with what Ximinez has accomplished at the gym.
“What they put those kids through five days out of the week is amazing,” said the mayor in a telephone interview. “They’re learning and their grades are up.”
Charles Scott is a junior at SMU majoring in Journalism with a minor in Ethics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.