Saturday, December 22, 2001

SULLIVAN: LaRosa provided punch


P.A.L. program seeks to build up inner city youths

By Tim Sullivan
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Harold Chandler, age 11, was punching a heavy bag nearly as heavy as he is. He circled the bag as it recoiled from his blows, his small fists fast and methodical, his feet flowing from spot to spot with the liquid grace of a dancer.

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        Beside him was his brother, Mario, age 12. The two boys worked side by side at the Mount Auburn Community Center Friday afternoon, pounding the bags, performing their exercises, maintaining their routine.

        They wore matching purple uniforms proclaiming their place in Golden Gloves boxing and the sharp concentration of skilled craftsmen. They were not young boys at play but young men of purpose.

        “Kids join gangs because they want somebody to care about them,” Police Captain Paul Humphries said. “We want 'em walking around wearing the gym colors instead of the gang colors. We want them to say, "I'm part of that.''

        Humphries stood in a raised boxing ring overlooking the place where the Chandler brothers were channeling their aggressions. Humphries had come for a photo opportunity — Fifth Third Bank's $50,000 check presentation to the Police Athletic League — but the police department's P.A.L. liaison lingered long afterward and appeared in no hurry to leave. This was a good sign.

        If the P.A.L. is to succeed in Cincinnati, it will be because the cops care enough to put in hours for which they won't get paid. It will be because they want to be a part of their communities and not apart from them. It will be because they recognize that gym colors beat gang colors seven days a week.

        LaRosa's launch

        Buddy LaRosa, the city's preeminent pizza maker, launched Cincinnati's first P.A.L. program in reaction to this summer's riots. He wanted to help humanize the police to the kids who have been conditioned to run from them, to build a bridge over some of Cincinnati's most terribly troubled waters.

        That LaRosa would make boxing the P.A.L.'s pilot program reflects his bedrock belief that the discipline and ambition he gained from his bouts enabled him to build his empire. If his romantic view of the fight game is not universally shared, it at least should be universally admired.

        LaRosa is the Father Flanagan of fisticuffs, a man who has made a hobby of steering at-risk adolescents through the rigors of the ring. Cincinnati's first P.A.L. program will be based at the Findlay Street Neighborhood House, but the program could expand quickly to other spots and other sports if business leaders can be convinced it reduces crime and creates better customers.

        Financial help

        Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis pledged financial support for Cincinnati's P.A.L. once it establishes a drug-prevention program.

        Paul Humphries, for one, is sold. Growing up with modest means, the future police captain played youth football in a program LaRosa helped sponsor. It was the love of the game, Humphries said, that motivated his efforts in the classroom and in citizenship. He didn't want to give his parents any reason to ground him.

        “A lot of my friends are in jail,” Humphries said, “or went down the wrong road.”

        If the P.A.L. should lead even one kid to the straight and narrow, Buddy LaRosa should be proud.

        Contact Tim Sullivan at 768-8456; fax: 768-8550; e-mail: tsullivan@enquirer.com.
       

       



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