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A boxing club in the small farming town of Avenal teaches discipline and makes room for dreams

avenal box jaylene.jpg
Alice Daniel
Jaylene Granados, 9, says punching the bag feels amazing.

The Kings Boxing Club is in a stand-alone building a few blocks away from Avenal’s main street. Nine year old Jordan Zavala says he started boxing here less than a year ago.

“Actually why I came over here, it’s a very weird story,” he says. A story that starts with a party and an older kid, a fifth grader at the time, who wouldn’t leave Jordan and his brother alone.

“He went up to me and like, he pushed me, so I’m like, he really wants to get hit. I hit him in the stomach and we left,” he says.

In the car on the way home, Jordan’s dad suggested he take up a new sport.

“And then my dad’s like ‘want to go boxing on Monday? Teach you how to fight but the thing is if you come and learn how to fight, you can’t fight in the streets.’ I’m like, all right,” he says.

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Alice Daniel
Jordon Zavala wants to be a professional boxer.

The boxing club is funded by the Police Activities League and run by volunteers. It’s a place for kids to train and to stay busy after school. Olympic and professional boxer Jose Ramirez grew up boxing in this gym. Jordan hopes to follow in his footsteps.

“So what I do my whole day is basically go to school, get picked up, chill out at my house till I come over here and when I come over here, whole different story, work hard,” he says.

Jordan rotates through different exercises including punching the speed bag. He starts at a slow rhythmic pace.

And quickly gets faster and faster.

He says he wasn’t always this smooth.

“The first time I did it, I didn’t really know and I would hit it once and the second time I would hit it, I would miss,” he says.

But Coach Ray Knight, one of two volunteer coaches at the boxing club, showed him what to do.

“So I just practiced and practiced, and I got the rhythm I was liking,” he says.

Jordan also lifts weights. Coach Ray spots him on the bench press

avenal box ray and jordan.jpg
Alice Daniel
Coach Ray helps Jordan do bench presses

Jordan’s sparring partner is another 9 year old, Jaylene Granados.

“I do a jab, and then I move my feet, and then I do a hook into the stomach,” she says, practicing on a punching bag.

Before Jaylene started boxing, she says she was really nervous about it. But now…

“My strong hand is just going into like the punch and it just feels like amazing to me,” she says.

Jaylene says the boxing club was not what she expected.

“Like Wow. The ring is very big,” she says. “When I first came in I thought it was just gonna be like bags and that’s it but then I saw the ring, and I just thought ‘wow that’s big.’”

She says boxing has improved many things in her life. She feels healthier. And hitting a punching bag calms her down. She gets her anger out.

“It’s not like a devil kind of anger, it’s just like an anger that most people have,” she says.

Michael Trejo is the other volunteer coach who shows up every day to work with sometimes dozens of kids including two of his own. He says the boxing club opens doors in surprising ways.

“It’s a good place for these kids to come and do something positive and see things they wouldn’t see if they didn’t have this gym. You know, some of these kids get to go to places that, some of these kids have never even been out of Avenal,” he says. “I’ve gone to just local towns 30 miles away, and I had a kid that had never even been out of Avenal, not even to go out to eat. And we finally convinced his mother to let him out and he was blown away and now he’s in the Army.”

The boxing club participates in tournaments all over the state including a recent one in Compton. Kids who qualify compete in Olympic style boxing where the rounds are short. They also wear headgear.

“These two people go at it and test their will and they’re going at it toe to toe and sweating and they’re tired and they keep going and then some, you know sometimes you’re on the other side of the hill but when you make it up top and you actually get that, you know, that kick, I mean I think that’s what drives them,” Trejo says.

It’s hard work, he adds. Really hard work.

“That’s what makes it so great,” he says. “Coz I mean how many people do you know who play basketball? Tons. How many people you know who play football? Who doesn’t want to play football? How many cheerleaders do you know? How many softball players do you know? But how many boxers do you know?”

For most of us, not many. But Jordan and Jaylene are getting to know quite a few. And Jordan says he wants to become a professional one day.

“I have the potential. I’m just ready,” he says. “You have to believe in yourself. You have to have faith.”

And then he goes back to punching the speed bag.

Alice Daniel was News Director for KVPR from 2019-2022. Daniel has a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and more than 25 years of experience as a print and radio journalist.