Changing lives and forging futures. That’s what the Pete Suazo Boxing Center is all about.
It is named after the late Pete Suazo, Utah’s first Hispanic state senator, who died in a tragic 2001 hunting accident. He loved boxing and helping children, and the center, located at 2825 South 200 East, lives up to his legacy.
To participate, kids must be in junior high or high school, live in South Salt Lake, and maintain at least “C” average grades.
Jamie Dirzo, age 12, joined because he just wanted to box. He says life before boxing was pretty boring. “I’d just go straight home and watch TV and watch my sister,” he says. The program has helped boost his grades and stay out of trouble. In the future he wants to keep boxing and graduate from college. Uriel Argumedo, nicknamed Booty, agreed with Jamie. He says the athletes at the center just stayed home and hung out with friends before joining. Booty’s life has also improved since joining the program. “They always help me with my homework, and I get better grades,” he says. In the future he might want to be a boxer.
The program has helped twelve-year old Steven Bahati with a lot of things as well. “When I came here I weighed like 85 pounds and I’ve gained some weight,” he says. When he leaves the program he wants to keep boxing as well.
These are only a few examples of many youth benefiting from the program.“Ninety-five kids are registered,” says coordinator Kelli Meranda. “on average, 33 come daily.” First, they hit the books and do mandatory homework with adult mentors. After that, they train for an hour or so. They take a break to refuel at the Kids Café—funded by the Utah Food Bank. Then it’s back into the ring for more sparring.
“This is the only local Police Athletic League (PAL),” director Jerry Silva says. The PAL is a national organization, thus providing the local team the opportunity to compete in Idaho, California, and Wyoming. South Salt Lake PAL funds the trips, and raises money through several big fund raisers and various grants. The youth participate in tournaments called “Smokers.” “Back in the old days they were called Smokers because everyone was smoking,” says Silva. Now participants are smokin’ hot in the ring and in school.
Ever since fifteen-year-old Hugo Hernandez was a little kid he’s wanted to be a boxer. His cousin told him about the program. It’s helped him stay out of trouble and raise his failing grades above the requirements to stay in the program. Hugo boasts his boxing record is 3-1. He says someday he wants to start a gym and become a trainer.
Seventeen-year-old Emily Garcia is another inspiring success story. A foster child, Garcia spent time in the juvenile justice system. “I got in a lot of trouble, needed something to do, and found this,” she says. Now Emily maintains a 4.0 GPA and is doing concurrent enrollment at the Salt Lake Community College taking a class in Medical Terminology. She wants to be an oncology nurse and go to the University of Utah or Utah State. “This is the only thing that’s keeping me from doing other things I shouldn’t do,” Emily says. “It’s all for a good purpose. I don’t get angry in school and fight anymore. I fight in here.”
These youth and their leaders are keeping Pete Suazo’s legacy alive by fighting for a better future. §