In the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago, just eight blocks separate Chicago Youth Boxing Club (CYBC), where Coach Gabriel works, from where he lives. In a city that is home to more violent neighborhoods than any other, Little Village has experienced its fair share of violence, crime and drugs. Growing up there, Gabriel has too. But he used sports as an escape from the dangers of the streets, and now he devotes his life to ensuring that the youth living in and around those eight blocks are able to escape as well.
The former professional fighter found himself without a gym when Windy City Boxing closed its doors in 2006. When a new gym, CYBC, opened in his neighborhood, he stopped competing and started coaching. As one of Coach Across America’s first coaches, Gabriel has been a part of Up2Us Sports since the beginning. Now, sports-based youth development is ingrained in his coaching techniques. “The first year, I was nervous trying this stuff out, but now I do it and I don’t even realize it’s all the things I’ve learned over the years at [National Coach Training] Institutes,” says Gabriel.
Now, he uses lessons learned from sports to keep his kids in the ring and off the streets. When a kid comes in with dreams of becoming a professional fighter, Gabriel encourages them to be the first person in their family to graduate from college. “I don’t mean to take away their dreams, but I want to be more realistic: I want them to be more focused on school, I want them to go to college.” Gabriel estimates that in his seven years at CYBC, over 30 kids have achieved this goal.
While CYBC is focused on the youth in the neighborhood, the entire community benefits. Instead of sneaking out of their houses and getting in trouble, the children stay home because their coaches have taught them to make better choices. These young boxers stay in school, and become friends and positive influences on one another. Most importantly, after school - between the hours of 3pm and 6pm, which is proven to be the most dangerous time for risky behavior in teens - these kids are in a safe haven with positive adult role models at CYBC. “They come in at 3pm and they’re here until 7pm or 8pm, even though a training session only lasts two hours. They just want to be here.”
Coach Gabriel is funded by The Humana Foundation.