Boxing gym a life saver for 10,000 children

GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- Failing grades, fighting, and drinking can lead teens down a dangerous path. One Grand Rapids man was headed there, but boxing saved his life. That was four decades ago.

Dave Packer has now helped more than 10,000 kids stay on course. You could call the hole-in-the-wall gym in Northwest Grand Rapids their guiding light. "A lot of them are running the streets," said Packer. "Drugs and gang activity."

For nearly four decades, Packer has made it his mission to bring kids off the dark streets, and instead run in this dark, cramped space. Packer started the Golden Gloves Gym because long ago, he was the one needing guidance.

"I ran the streets for awhile right around this same neighborhood," he said. "I couldn't play sports because I failed English my sophomore year. Boxing kept me on the straight and narrow."

But one boxer here, couldn't escape the fast life. "I used to smoke marijuana, I used to party, I used to drink," said Johnny Garcia.

Garcia was just a pre-teen boxer then, growing up in inner-city Holland, he says the hot-spot for crime. "By 15 years old, I was in and out of jail," he said.

By 23 years old, he was he serious trouble. "They wanted to send me to prison and they were going to lock me up for a couple years that's what made me really turn my life around," he said.

He put down the alcohol, picked up his boxing gloves and joined Packers' gym. The pro is now 18 and 1.

"Boxing' saved me I'd say," he said.

So what is it about this sport that attracts kids from the street? "I think a lot of fighters' backgrounds are the same where we come from a struggle of poverty, or it's a struggle with your parents or trouble in school," he said. "You walk in a boxing gym and you find it's a way to get out your aggression."

Though he travels the country to fight, he drives from Holland to the Golden Gloves Gym daily to train.

He says he's stayed with the gym because of the coaches, and to shape up the teens. Some who are leading a mirror image of his past life. "Sometimes you smell kids that smell like cigarettes or marijuana and now they're in the gym trying to straighten their life out as well," he said.

He also shares his story at local schools. "I got a lot of younger kids who look up to me now. Anything I can do to help change their lives, or lead them in the right direction. I'm all for it.

10,000 kids have headed this way so far. These two generations of boxers hope a new generation will pick sport over the streets.

Packer says people in their 40s still approach him and thank him for his positive influence in his life. He's also become a recruiting force in this community... recently bringing the National Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions to DeVos Place.

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