It was the program that almost wasn’t, but thanks to hard work, diligence, a community effort and an understanding and caring Mayor and City Council, F.I.G.H.T.S. Boxing Program will be around to fight another day.
Program founder and director Ian Franklin established this program over 13 years ago, and the labor of love has done nothing but grown ever since. However, when you listen to Franklin talk about his passion and witness first hand the impact it has on the youth, one can tell right away that this is about more than just boxing.
“The goal is to encourage and stimulate spiritual, mental and physical growth in the youth while teaching the hard work, dedication and discipline of boxing,” said Franklin. “The program provides the youth a place to come and do something constructive with their time, while learning life skills through learning the fundamentals of boxing. I want to thank the Mayor and City Council for keeping this program going,” he added.
When Franklin began the journey of what is now the F.I.G.H.T.S. Boxing Program it was just him, his oldest son, a heavy bag and a lot of desire. Now it has grown to be one of the premier youth boxing programs in the city, and is in the process of growing to be so much more.
Neighborhood kids quickly caught wind of Franklin’s program, and before he knew it he had anywhere from 15-20 kids in his garage on a daily basis learning the fundamentals of boxing. Little did they know they were getting so much more. Not only did Franklin notice a difference in the kids, they noticed a difference in themselves. All changes for the better, of course.
The kids were spending time with Franklin, a positive community role model who commands respect, but also carries himself in a way that warrants it. He also makes himself available to the youth and has always shown a soft side even when he had to be stern. The kids left the garage, or the makeshift gym, with an understanding of hard work, discipline, team work and dedication. They also knew they had a place to work out their frustrations and in Franklin they knew they had someone to talk to. Someone who truly understood what they were dealing with.
Franklin is no stranger to the at-risk youth situation. He himself was an at-risk youth, caught in the legal system. Lacking guidance and discipline, Franklin was saved by boxing. The same tool he is using to help save so many, is what saved him from a life that was sure to have a tragic outcome.
Franklin had a brief pro career, one that showed promise and a lot of potential to be successful. However, an unfortunate injury put an early end to his career, but his love of boxing and what he learned from it is what kept him focused on life and being a positive person.
The F.I.G.H.T.S. Boxing program has since grown and moved to a new location. It was housed at Ecclesia Christian Fellowship in Highland where he trained a couple of Olympic hopefuls.
“Pastor Josh Beckley has been a tremendous help with this program. He blessed us with some space to train and run a program; he blessed us financially and with other resources, I can’t thank him and the Ecclesia family enough,” said Franklin.
Now with the assistance of Beckley, the city and many others, Franklin and the F.I.G.H.T.S. Program is housed at Perris Hill Park, directly across from Fiscalini baseball field. With little or no advertisement the kids found the program and they are coming out in droves. He averages about 20-30 youth a day, who choose to be a part of the program, and follow all the rules that apply.
The move wasn’t as simple as it seems. It took a community effort, a red tape process and a council meeting. But thanks to all parties involved the kids have a program to attend in a safe location.
“I have to commend the Mayor and the City Council for the way they stepped in for the kids. They recognized the impact of this program and how it will benefit the city and found a way to make things happen. They need to be recognized for their effort,” said Danny Tillman, San Bernardino City School Board member. “Ian (Franklin) is doing a great job. His program attracts on average 20 kids a day; we have to support programs that have that type of impact on the youth,” added Tillman.
The F.I.G.H.T.S. Boxing program has a number of success stories to speak on. Members of the program have been able to have life experiences that they otherwise would not have access to. Some of the experiences include cross-county travel, competing in national boxing tournaments, competing in the U.S. Olympic Trials, make the USA Olympic Boxing team and becoming a professional boxer.
Franklin can boast of many success stories where boxing plays the starring roles. However, the stories Franklin likes to boast about are the kids who use the F.I.G.H.T.S. program as a way to save their lives. The ones who learn how to make the principles of the program work for them, even if they didn’t further themselves in the sport.
“I’m proud of all the kids and their success. We have a couple of guys that have turned pro, we have guys that competed in the trials, we have an Olympic athlete that came up through the ranks of the F.I.G.H.T.S. program, but most of all we have survivors. Guys who were shown a better way of life and they took it,” said Franklin. “Not everyone has the ability to be a boxer, they have to be fighters within, and that what they learn by being a part of F.I.G.H.T.S.,” said Franklin.
Franklin’s biggest success story is about a young middle school age kid he met straight out of the California Youth Authority (CYA). The kid was expelled from middle school for gang banging and carrying a firearm on campus. Franklin introduced the kid to boxing through the program and that became their common bond. From there the kid would attend church with Franklin and his sons. Through the program the kid learned to live by the principles taught at F.I.G.H.T.S. He never returned to the life of crime, but instead he is a paralegal in a prestigious area law firm, a youth mentor, a community leader and a very strong advocate of the F.I.G.H.T.S. boxing program. He also gave one of the most heart-wrenching life-saving stories that could have possibly played a key role in the powers that be decision making. It was the story of Michael Thompson that brought tears to the eyes of many during the city council meeting. His success story included the role the F.I.G.H.T.S. boxing program played in its outcome, and how it would have been a completely different story had it not been for Franklin and F.I.G.H.T.S.
Thompson’s story alone proves this is about more than just boxing. This program has allowed some very talented kids a shot at once in a lifetime, dream-come-true type of experience. The F.I.G.H.T.S. boxing program is the only program in the state to have Olympic representation. Members of the program have won multiple national and state titles, along with Golden Gloves titles. As mentioned before, this is not just about boxing, and not everyone is going to be a fighter, but everyone deserves a fighting chance.
The FIGHTS Boxing Program is located at Perris Hill Park on Highland Avenue directly across from Fiscalini baseball field. The program is open to the youth from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. For additional information contact Ian Franklin at (909) 496-6029.