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State senator and local boxing coach entering the ring for charity

A boxing match this weekend between a state senator and the founder of a youth program in Syracuse will raise money and the profile of the North and West Area Athletic and Education Centers. State Sen. John DeFrancisco and local boxing coach Ray Rinaldi will be the only ones on a fight card that’s meant to raise money and promote awareness for a program that keeps inner city kids out of trouble.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO
John "The Pit Bull" DeFrancisco strikes a pose during the weigh in for this weekend's charity boxing match.

There was a lot of trash talk between John "The Pit Bull" DeFrancisco and “Sugar" Ray Rinaldi at their official weigh in for Saturday’s “Fight for the Future.” But at the heart of the good natured ribbing is a program that teaches thousands of at-risk city youth to box, ultimately teaching them discipline and communication skills and getting them off the streets.

Rinaldi, who's 84, has been coaching boxers for 60 years and has started raising funds for the day when he’s not around to run things.

He says kids who take part in his programs turn things around in weeks because of the nature of the sport.

"Boxing is a hitting sport," Rinaldi said. "If you touch and put your hand here, and you drop it there, you get hit here. So it’s simple, and they pay attention immediately.”

Rinaldi says teaching kids eight and up to box can turn their lives around. He’s been doing it for decades on the city’s north and west sides, and says over the years the kids haven’t changed. But he adds there are more outside influences now than ever.

“Cell phones and all these other things, you’ve got a problem, you’ve got a serious problem," Rinaldi said. "They mature too quick, the kids. So they get involved in adult situations, that’s why you have all this nonsense going on.”

The boxing coach says there are several reasons boxing helps kids. For one thing, there’s discipline.

“They don’t swear here," Rinaldi said. "They don’t have do-rags, they don’t have pants down to here. So you say this is number one. As far as being competitive, their competitiveness brings out their desire to compete against someone and their desire to talk. The first thing they do here after a while is communicate without hitting out, without being mad.”

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO
Ray Rinaldi (center) and state Sen. John DeFrancisco chat during their weigh-in.

DeFrancisco is a fan, noting there are many programs for at-risk youth.

“Many of the programs just provide an income for people running a program," DeFrancisco said. "This actually works. These are volunteers who help kids not only get off the streets, to have someplace to go, to direct their energies, and there’s also an academic component that they do with the city school district."

Rinaldi says the success of the program isn’t measured in terms of how many bouts these young boxers win.

"You know this nonsense about being a champion like (Muhammad) Ali and all the greats, those people had talent," Rinaldi said. "These kids, after a couple of two or three years, become a normal person with a normal job, away from the gangs and stuff like that. That’s a true champion.”

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.