ABC7 Stars: Bay Area boxer helps at-risk youth

Friday, August 25, 2017
BRISBANE, Calif. (KGO) -- The fighting days are over for a San Francisco boxer. But he's passing on the lessons of the sport to help keep kids off the streets. Here's a look at a man who's created a safe haven, where discipline and respect meet all of life's punches. He's one of our ABC7 Stars.

Step inside Fire in the Ring boxing club any weekday afternoon and you'll find punching bags, shadow boxing, jump ropes, and most importantly - smiling kids.

"It's very fun here," said young boxer Corban Wagner. "Best two hours of my life."

Retired boxer Jimmy Ford opened his first gym in Crocker Amazon Park in 2003 before expanding to a location in Brisbane a few years later.

"Jimmy's cool," Wagner said. "He's fun. We have a lot of fun here. He's like a brother to me. Like, kind of like a big brother."

That big brother, Ford, leans on his own experiences.

He grew up in a tough neighborhood and started boxing when he was 10 years old. Every time he left the gym, he got into trouble. So he trained harder.

He went on to fight in the Junior Olympics and the Golden Gloves.

Today he's a man of faith, certain he's here to help keep at risk kids on the right path.

"It's priceless," said Ford. "Can't keep it unless you give it away."

He's humble and a little camera shy. But parents and volunteers alike say it's Ford's dedication that makes this place so special.
California Hall of Fame boxer Andy Nance has been to dozens of gyms across the country. But none like Fire in the Ring.

"When you walk into this gym, when it's packed, this has the most unique feel of any boxing gym you'll ever go into," said Nance. "I mean, there's love here. There's like, respect. These kids, when they come in, everybody says hi to everybody. I mean it's different than any other boxing gym you'll ever go to."

People of all ages train at the club, but kids 7 to 17 can come for free Monday through Friday from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. During that time they work on physical fitness, boxing technique, and along the way, learn life lessons.

"Only fight in the ring, don't fight outside. That's a big one. And just, like, respect," said boxer Rachelle Vargas

Ford leads by example. And that's one of the things that keeps heavyweight Laron Mitchell so inspired.

"He's always in the back of your head," said Mitchell. "When I don't go for my run, I hear Jimmy. When kids are horse playing and he just looks, they know and then they put their head down like, 'Oh let me go back and focus.'"

But Ford doesn't want to take any credit. He says, it's a "we" thing.

"We're all family, we all put in what we need to put in to help these kids out," he said.

Much of the equipment and operational costs are donated and Jimmy Ford and the volunteers at his nonprofit all have full time jobs in addition to their work at the boxing club. Ford makes himself available to parents and kids on off hours, too. Just another reason he is an ABC7 Star.

Click here to read about more ABC7 Stars where you live.
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