Harry E. Cummins III used sports as a vehicle to express himself as a youth in a productive and positive manner while growing up in Toledo.
Whether it was baseball, boxing, or even weightlifting, sports kept Cummins busy.
His athletic past figured heavily in establishing the International Boxing Club (IBC), which is a nonprofit organization he started 15 years ago to help keep Toledo youth off the streets.
IBC has figured in dozens of lives since its inception and local youth have come through the after-school program that is intended to show participants how to box and become better students in the classroom. More than 4,000 have participated in the program.
The IBC's mission remains, first and foremost, linking boxing and books as a one-two punch toward defeating a life of illiteracy, hopelessness, and avoiding a life of crime.
"The main reason I started the program was I wanted to get kids off the streets," Cummins said. "I wanted to get them out of the gangs. They were good kids. I talked to them, but they'd get into gangs, and they were starving for attention.
"Where they'd get their attention was the direction they were going to go."
It's been just over a year since the IBC relocated from a facility in Toledo at 1717 Adams St. to Oregon in a spacious building formerly known as the Fun Spot Arena Roller Skating Rink, located just off Interstate 280 and Navarre Ave. It's at the former skating rink where the IBC hopes to make an even greater impact helping youth from ages 8 to 19 find their way.
"I could have never imagined this," said Cummins, regarding the organization's new home.
The new center has plenty of space and resources. Besides having plenty of room for as many as three boxing rings and ample space for punching bags, shadow boxing, and exercising, it has an area roughly the size of a small classroom designated for studying and completing homework assignments. Cummins said the facility can also be rented out for local community events, such as parties, receptions, and perhaps even skating engagements for possible revenue streams to help the IBC financially.
Furthermore, the IBC, which operates on an annual budget of approximately $140,000, has computers and desks set up for the young boxers to complete any homework before putting on a pair of boxing gloves for afterschool practice sessions. The boxers also have access to tutors. The IBC works with the University of Toledo, which has established a program that utilizes honors students to serve as tutors for IBC participants needing assistance with classroom work.
"I tell them, 'If you don't get that education, there's nowhere to go but to prison," said Cummins, a 57-year-old retired General Motors employee. "I told them, 'I care for you guys too much that I don't want to see you guys in prison.'"
Cody Houghtalling, 20, started out as one of IBC's student participants when he was a 13-year-old. He's remained involved with the IBC even after he stopped competing as a boxer. Cummins has targeted him as one who will help maintain the program whenever he decides to relinquish his responsibilities as the IBC’s executive director.
Houghtalling joined IBC because he wanted to learn how to fight but found in time the program offered more than boxing lessons. The Waite graduate found the IBC offered life lessons, and he's become a coach and mentor.
"I always tell them, most likely I've been in the situation where they've been," Houghtalling said. "I just try to help them work it out."
The IBC limits its membership to roughly 30-40 students annually, but rarely is anyone turned away who is interested in turning his or her life around and believes in making that happen by becoming a part of the IBC. It's required that everyone who joins must come in and work to maintain at least a "C" grade point average.
The program involves two boxing teams, but everyone in the program isn't obligated to boxing on either of the boxing teams. However, every participant must meet the grade requirements implemented by the IBC.
Cummins said making the students' educational progress as much a priority as their improvement in the boxing ring has led many to improve their classroom performance.
Three former IBC participants have graduated from the University of Toledo and 11 others are currently enrolled in colleges.
There are plans this spring to begin building a facility intended for vocational and technical training right next to the main facility. It's an opportunity to expand the educational portion of the program based upon the move to the new facility.
"I tell the kids, 'Trades are a good program to get into,'" Cummins said. "This country was built by trades and that's a good way to make a living. We're here to make champions in life.
"I have a saying, 'It's great to have a champion in the ring, but it's more important to have champions in life outside the ring."
Contact Donald Emmons at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6032 or on Twitter @DemmonsBlade.