East Bay nonprofit aims to improve kids' mental, physical health through boxing

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Tuesday, August 1, 2023
Bay Area nonprofit aims to improve kids' mental health through boxing
Bay Area's Feet First aims to improve kids' mental and physical health through boxing and will be featured at National Night Out in Martinez.

MARTINEZ, Calif. (KGO) -- Tuesday is National Night Out, a nationwide event that links communities with police officers who serve departments.

Did you know though, it's also an event that helps nonprofits in the community? In Martinez, the police department is the main sponsor but those from a program called Feet First will be a participant.

The Feet First Foundation is in schools and continues to rapidly expand across California by bringing life lessons to the classroom with a non-contact boxing workout.

MORE: Study shows increase in anxiety, depression in California schoolkids among biggest in US

Beyond the school supplies, mental health experts warn an increasing number of kids carry weight of extra anxiety and depression as school returns.

Fifteen-year-old Quinton Wadsworth and his big brother John may be young boxers but they're also prime examples of kids working at something they're passionate about.

"I just think it gives you confidence and makes you feel strong and even if you don't have the best days you learn something from it and then you can take something from it and feel better about it," said 17-year-old John Wadsworth.

Sean Sharkey and Dan Dorsett want to bring the Wadsworth brothers' mentality to other kids. They run the Feet First Foundation and they'll be teaming up with police and other organizations for National Night Out Tuesday in Martinez. Letting people know about their non-contact boxing program that is in several junior highs and high schools across the Bay Area, and will soon be expanding to Southern California.

"We're trying to get these kids to find out what they're passionate about. We're not teaching them to be boxers, we're teaching them to be boxers in life," said Dan Dorsett of Feet First.

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"We're building confidence and ability to focus and I think maybe the most important thing is we're engaging them back in school again," said Sean Sharkey of Feet First.

You'd think that a punch would be the first thing they showed the kids but not the case. It's actually their footwork, going forward and sliding that foot, then going backward and sliding that front foot and then the combination of the two. Punches come later.

It's a mental game at a time when many kids are having their own battles.

"Especially with the two-year run with COVID they disengaged and it's not that easy to get engaged again and that's really what we've done," said Sharkey.

"But we really start talking in the circle time about where their life is going, what they want to do after school, what kind of challenges they're facing because what we're going to do is work through those challenges in this class," said Dorsett.

The program happens during a period of the school day, with some kids who may be struggling in a part of their life, but anyone can join. And if you think it's all boys, think again.

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"In some academies, it's half and half, and the girls seem to learn it quicker than the boys, don't tell them that," said Sharkey.

"Who throws better punches?" we asked the Wadsworth brothers.

"I throw them faster," said Quinton.

"I think he throws them faster, but I throw them harder," said John.

Don't worry though because while the boxing Wadsworth brothers are competing, the Feet First program does not involve any fighting. Just the physical and mental training that comes with it, along with that special feeling of accomplishment.

Organizers say California Assemblymember Timothy Grayson has been a big supporter of the program and helped secure $3 million in last year's state budget with the goal of helping the foundation expand statewide. They are currently in talks with school districts in Los Angeles and will soon be launching in Southern California.

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