From ShawDC.com

Kennedy Playground
Using the ring, to fight the streets
By MIKE RUPERT
Aug 31, 2005, 11:46

Examiner Staff Writer

Ten-year-old Romelo Webster leans into his mother's leg, trying to balance a hot dog and two bags of chips in his small hands at the Kennedy Recreation Center in Northwest early Saturday night. He looks up at her as she pats head and smiles.

Just 30 minutes earlier, nearly a thousand people were screaming in excitement as the 65-pound D.C. boy put a relentless assault on another 10-year-old from Maryland.

Yes, it sounds scary. And yes, it seems violent. But for Webster and dozens of other D.C. and Maryland youths, boxing is growing as a way to stay off the streets and learn how "to be a man," said Jeff Miller of Fit2Fight boxing gym in Temple Hills.

"It's not just about boxing," said Miller, who had two boxers in the finals of the Mayor's Cup Invitational Amateur Boxing Tournament Saturday night at the Northwest recreation center. "If they don't have their work done, their grades up and are acting right, they don't box. We are able to step in where parents and teachers can't. They listen to us."

Keely Thompson, director of Keely's Boxing and Youth Center in Northwest, said 638 kids come to his gym every night, six days a week, and many of them are escaping the lure of gangs.

"A lot of kids have had tough lives," Thompson said. "Boxing builds their self-esteem, teaches them discipline and respect. It keeps them off the streets."

Thompson said one of his teenage students used to be in the violent MS-13 gang.

Webster, who is one of Keely's boxers, is quiet and shy when asked why he decided to step into the ring. He said he keeps his talents a secret.

"I just liked it," said Webster, who sported a red bruise under his left eye. "I don't tell kids at school I box. I don't fight at school."

mrupert@dcexaminer

© Copyright 2005 by ShawDC.com