By Brian Whitehead
San Bernardino County Sun, Calif.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) “Hopefuls,” a four-part Empire Network PBS docu-series, is to debut at 8 p.m. Sept. 27 on the Empire Network. Viewers will follow three star Project Fighting Chance boxers as they prepare for and compete in USA Boxing’s Western Elite Qualifier and Regional Open Championships.
Sparring inside a sweltering Union Street boxing gym built with and powered by sweat equity is one television producer’s idea of the American spirit.
Meet the boys and girls of Project Fighting Chance.
In recent years, much ink has deservedly been spilled over the heralded San Bernardino nonprofit and its tangible, lasting impact on at-risk area youth.
Founded by Ian Franklin nearly 20 years ago, Project Fighting Chance’s story now is coming to a television near you.
“We wanted to show the social and economic value a program like this can bring to the community,” KVCR TV/FM General Manager Keith Birkfeld said by phone this week. “These kids are a powerful representation of that.”
“Hopefuls,” a four-part Empire Network PBS docu-series, is to debut at 8 p.m. Sept. 27 on the Empire Network.
Viewers will follow three star Project Fighting Chance boxers as they prepare for and compete in USA Boxing’s Western Elite Qualifier and Regional Open Championships, held this past March in Albuquerque, N.M. Franklin, Project Fighting Chance board members and San Bernardino leaders lend their voices to the influence such a program can have on a downtrodden region.
“It has to be a conscious effort,” treasurer La Quetta Bush-Simmons says through tears in a trailer, “that says block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, city by city, that everybody there is worth saving.”
Terry Washington, known locally and in boxing gyms around the country as “Terrible” Terry, is perhaps the greatest example of Project Fighting Chance’s mission statement.
Several years ago, the boy was hanging out on Del Rosa Avenue, if not asking for trouble, then flirting with it.
Franklin, who founded Project Fighting Chance in 1999 to provide a variety of after-school athletic programs for boys and girls, approached Terry one day and asked if he could box.
“I can fight,” the pint-sized, raspy-voiced kid replied, as Franklin recently recalled.
The future champion was in.
“I was a lost person,” Terry, 14, said. “My friends and I were running the streets, and when we came (to Project Fighting Chance), I was the only one who stayed on. Now I’m winning national titles and being the greatest.”
KVCR cameras followed Terry, who has a personality made for television, “Killa” Kenny Lobatoz and Charles “LoLo” Harris as they trained inside Project Fighting Chance’s Westside gym.
On any given day, the converted Department of Neighborly Services classroom has two to three dozen boys and girls either learning boxing fundamentals or burnishing footwork and combinations. And while the nationally-recognized F.I.G.H.T.S. (Faith In God Heals Troubled Souls) boxing program attracts the most attention, Franklin and his fellow coaches aren’t just producing world-class boxers.
“A lot of these kids have experienced some childhood trauma, some violence at home,” said Terry Boykins, Project Fighting Chance vice president. “Here, we’re able to address those issues and talk about what kind of resilience and resources are needed to deal with those things.
“We use the classroom for therapy and the gym as an outlet to talk about anger,” Boykins continued. “If we can get kids to fight demons in here, they can be successful out there.”
Funded by donations and sponsorships, Project Fighting Chance currently has five nationally-ranked boxers, according to USABoxing.org — the three in the docu-series and Charles Harris’ younger brothers Isiah, 12, and Ruffin, 11.
Additionally, Rayshaun “Nino” Thomas, a San Bernardino native who credits Project Fighting Chance for keeping him out of trouble, is ready to turn pro at 22.
The younger Harris boys, of Rialto, won silver medals in their weight classes in June at the Junior Olympics in West Virginia.
As for how the protagonists of “Hopefuls” fared in March, tune in later this year to find out.
“The good Lord has his hand on this program,” Franklin said. “He has to, because this is hard to do.”