At Allentown’s Pound 4 Pound Boxing, kids choose the ring over the streets

Written by on August 13, 2021

At Allentown’s Pound 4 Pound Boxing, kids choose the ring over the streets

By Ben Stemrich

August 13, 2021

Inside Allentown’s Pound 4 Pound Boxing. Photo | Ben Stemrich / WLVR

ALLENTOWN, Pa. – For 10 years, an Allentown nonprofit group has been teaching boxing to help young people stay on the right path.

LIsten to the story.

At Lehigh Valley Pound 4 Pound Boxing, kids learn about life inside and outside of the ring.

The old warehouse sits off Mill Street, a dead-end alley in the middle of Allentown. As you walk in and start up the long staircase, you can begin to hear the students at work. 

Julian Lopez is a tall, lanky 16-year-old training for his first fight. He says Pound 4 Pound rescued him.

“It really took me off the streets,” he says. “I was to the point where I was about to just start robbing people. But nah, nah, I wanna do boxing. I want to be a good, positive person. I want to change this world.”

Then there’s 14-year-old Leon Gonzalez. He’s also training for a fight, and has a similar story. He says before boxing he was having trouble in school.

“It helped me a lot in school,” he explains. “At first, I wasn’t getting good grades but after coming to boxing I joined the honor society.”

Paul Pinnock is the man who leads and coaches the young men and women at Pound 4 Pound.

“I thought that boxing was something that provided for kids that normally would have fallen through the cracks of the system,” he says.

Pinnock says he understands boxing isn’t for everyone.

“It’s going to reach a certain group of kids and the changes it makes in those lives is going to be tremendous because it’s going to give them a direction and hope that never existed before,” he says.

Inside Allentown’s Pound 4 Pound Boxing. Photo | Ben Stemrich / WLVR

Usually, the gym holds about 20 students at a time. Abel Corea, 16, is one of them. He says the ring is no place to mess around.

“You gotta take it very serious,” he says. “You can’t joke around in the ring, because one punch can end like that.”

The students wear headgear, mouth and groin guards for protection. Boxing can be dangerous. The American Academy of Pediatrics opposes the sport for anyone under 19 because of the high risk for brain injury. But it also recognizes benefits, like self-discipline and self-confidence.

Anthony Lebron, 15, says his time in the gym is the most important of his day.

“It’s best to come to the gym, I’m telling you, because 5 to 9 — them four hours can save your life,” he says. “Because you never know what’s happening from 5 to 9. That’s when the sun goes down and all the bad things (start) happening.”

Pound 4 Pound is part of a community effort in Allentown. Everything is donated, from space in the building to the heavy bags. One of the biggest supporters is Karen Nazarewych.

“I am secretary, treasurer, co-founder and the mom of all of these kids,” she says. “They are my boys.”

A decade ago, Nazarewych says she formed a bond with Pinnock and two of the boys at a nearby gym.

“We just started connecting,” she says. “My husband and I started helping them financially because it was just Paul and the boys. Most of the parents didn’t have money to support   them for boxing.”

Now Nazarewych helps solicit donations from the community to keep the gym afloat. A typical boxing gym membership could cost more than $100 a month. Pound 4 Pound only charges $25 and won’t turn away any kids who can’t afford it.

Pinnock says having someone is important for these kids, but that’s not all they need.

“It’s about the kids, and them having a place. It’s about them, not me,” he says.

As for the teens like Julian Lopez and Leon Gonzalez? They were training for fights. One of them won and one of them lost.

But both got right back to training, getting ready for their next opportunity.

You can find out more about Pound 4 Pound Boxing or donate at the group’s website.

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