Dodge City Daily Globe - Dodge City, KS
  • Boxing avenue for youth turnaround in Dodge City

  • Saul Morales has seen the world people shy away from. He has lived and breathed what would suffocate others.

    Now he's hoping to transform Dodge City's youth so they don't end up dealing with the same fate.

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  • Saul Morales has seen the world people shy away from. He has lived and breathed what would suffocate others.
    Now he's hoping to transform Dodge City's youth so they don't end up dealing with the same fate.
    In 1976, Morales moved to Dodge City from Juarez, Mexico. He grew up on the streets, but never lost sight of the bigger picture as he became older. So with a new lease on life, he settled in Dodge over 35 years ago — and he doesn't like what he is seeing.
    "When I came here at the age of 15, this town was a pretty town and now I can see it's pretty much messed up," Morales said. "Grafitti everywhere, vandalism, gang members, it didn't used to be like that. So one day I decided that someone has to do something to help out the kids. This has always been my pretty town, my calm town, and it made me upset how turned around it's become."
    A few years back, Morales and some kids from the city were training a local gym in their boxing facility. Morales used to be a student of the sport known as the "sweet science", taking a liking to it upon arriving in Dodge.
    As the cost of living rises, so does the need to make a little extra money any way possible. So a once free boxing center was transformed into a charge-as-they-come project.
    That sent Morales — and many of the kids — searching for a cheaper alternative to stay off the streets. So he begun asking around.
    Four years ago, Morales opened up the Morales Youth Boxing center at Hennessy Hall inside Old St. Mary's College. His goal was simple: clean up the youth of Dodge City by giving them a free place to train and learn the aspects of life.
    "I have a passion for boxing, I see what these kids need and I'm looking for the key to open each kid to turn them around," Morales said. "They need motivation, no matter how they are doing in boxing, I tell them they are doing good. I was a wild kid in Juarez, so I see the look in these kids' eyes and see the change they need."
    Morales' boxing facility has evolved over the past four years, as it is churned out multiple champions from various events. His work in the area has grabbed the attention of cities like Amarillo, Texas, Denver, and several Kansas metro areas.
    One thing was made crystal clear — the gym isn't in the business to make money off of the kids. In the four years that Morales has had the gym open for training, he has yet to serve up a fee to get in. The equipment, trips to tournaments, and the boxing center are all acquired with the help of donations from around the city.
    Page 2 of 3 - A current employee at Roto-Mix, Morales says that donations are key for affording hotel rooms, gas, and meals during events. He also says that the championship caliber fighting tournaments are what keep the kids motivated to keep coming back to work on their character.
    "When we find out about an event, we get posters and hang them up where the kids can see them," Morales said. "That way it keeps them there and they train, and they train hard. I want to motivate those kids and keep them there and help clean up this town. We need donations to help send these kids to more fights."
    A swinging success
    One of Morales' pupils, 15-year-old Ivan Rodriguez, is a fast-rising amateur in the Kansas ranks. He has already captured three even title belts, including a "Fighter of the Night" award from Ulysses and another winning bout belt from a recent brawl at Garden City.
    For Rodriguez, boxing wasn't always the answer to what he wanted to do in life. But thanks to his older brother, it quickly turned into an avenue for him to achieve bigger and better things.
    "When I was 12, my brother wanted to go to a boxing gym, and I always followed him around," Rodriguez said. "I was taken back when I first saw the ring, all the bags, and how good the boxers were. I started to like because of the sparring, well, not at first because I kept getting beat up. But I kept going and getting better."
    Every time Rodriguez got knocked down, he bounced right back up. It was a mentality — a way of life — that he learned while training inside Morales' facility. He said that multiple times his mom would yell at him to quit the boxing escapades because he would come home with his shirt matted in blood.
    But that's what drove him to go back.
    It wasn't easy for Rodriguez, who suffers from asthma. But the constant training and work on his lungs soon became a distant shadow in his fighting past.
    Boxing has given Rodriguez a different perspective on life at a young age, as he sees the sport as a way to do good with his physical abilities.
    "I want to do one of two things, one of them would be to go pro and become a champion boxer," Rodriguez said. "Or I would rather take this, get a scholarship to college and live life. I want to be able to help take care of my family and get them out of debt. That would be pretty cool."
    Finding who you are
    Life inside the gym wasn't lollipops and rainbows. It was a full blown character building breakdown, where a punch to the face could actually turn someone's life around. Rodriguez is one example of Morales' system, which is that kids in the inner areas of Dodge City don't have to turn their lives over to mischief or gangs — but to pick up a hobby that teaches self-discipline and gets them thinking about the right things in life.
    Page 3 of 3 - "My goal is simple, if they want to become champions, that's fine, but for me, I want to see lawyers and doctors," Morales said. "Boxing is a very hard sport, but I show them discipline and respect, which they are going to need in life. One of these days when these kids grow up and have jobs, they'll treat it right."
    Boxing is a mentally and physically demanding sport. Not only are you required to have an intense amount of stamina, but you are also required to outthink and outwit your opponent. And if you make one miscalculation, the future points at you laying on the boxing ring canvas.
    Rodriguez, who is now 10-3 in his amateur career, sees this sport as a way to mold other kids who once looked up to someone and didn't think they could ever elevate themselves to their level.
    "When I first started, I looked at all the boxers in the gym that were awesome athletes," Rodriguez said. "But it all comes down to training. Once they stopped training as often, and I continued working each and every day, I got closer and closer to their skill level. It's crazy to think that there are kids now in that gym who look up to me the same way I looked up to those guys a few years ago."
    For the time being, Morales would like to see more kids from the Dodge City area utilize what has become a life-changing training facility. With no charge and room for up to 35 kids, the future is bright for little ones who view boxing as a way to move up the ladder in life.
    With the burning passion for boxing raging deep in his soul, Morales wants to use the sport to turn this town back into what it was when he first came here in 1976. And no matter how long it takes to turn things around, he is willing to put in the work to make a difference.
    "As long as I have a place to train those kids, I'm going to keep it going," Morales said. "I want to see these kids succeed and make something of their lives."
    The lights are up and the bell is ready to ring — Morales is ready to take things back, one punch at a time.

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