Boxing KOs Bullying: How The Feet First Foundation Is Using Boxing To Help At-Risk Youth
Boxing is a sport that always has been the red-light district of sports, but in the same breath had an inherent cool factor that never stopped drawing people in from all ages, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Though boxing is often looked at for the corruption of the sport in its origins, the awful scorecards turned in by judges that at best show incompetence and at worst show something deceitful, as well as the professional business component that is nothing short of a lion’s den, in which those who understand the system excel, and the naive are prey.
It is a cold game and one that can make someone bitter, quick.
Well, meet Dan Dorsett and Sean Sharkey, two East Bay community leaders, who met three years ago, when Dorsett was going through personal issues in his own life that saw him battling for custody of his two children, Sean Sharkey’s gym became a place of major importance.
“I met Dan three years ago,” said Sean Sharkey reflectively. “The boxing program along with the gym itself had a positive impact on his whole family, and one day he asked me if I would like to do it on a bigger scale based on the positive changes he saw to himself and his children.”
The two came up with the 501c3 non-profit boxing curriculum for at-risk youths, which was founded in Northern California, which is the Feet First Foundation.
Sharkey, a life-long Bay Area resident, whose father was a professional wrestler, started boxing in Oakland years ago, at the same gym as George Foreman after Foreman had just gotten into boxing after being placed there from the Job Corps. Sharkey would then journey through all as aspects of martial arts from wrestling to jiu-jitsu, kickboxing, and so forth, and so on, but boxing was always at the core of what he taught.
That being said, the program truly dates back twenty years ago when founder Sean Sharkey began taking kids off the streets that were struggling with life in general. Despite, the organization still being in its infancy, Sharkey has done this for his entire life.
“People ask me how we came up with the program,” said Dan Dorsett, the co-founder of the Feet First Foundation.
Dorsett laid out an intricate journey through education that saw him end up at San Francisco State University, where a child psychology class was a pivotal moment in his life that lead him to look at statistical analysis. Dorsett, who at one-time promoted some of the largest club events in the country, has become a leader in the movement of bringing boxing to implement better physical and mental health after he saw what it did for his children and himself first hand at Sean Sharkey’s gym.
“…from that experience of going to school, I thought ‘hey if I can measure how Sean [Sharkey] is working with these kids in the program, put some statistics and data to it, we can really do something that changes people and save some lives,” said Dorsett.
This is exactly what they did, as they created metrics to look at different variables as well as ways of assessing how the students felt before and after the program. Tangible data which could be used as a baseline or A-to-B composite of the journey through the program rather than testimonials or just positive feedback is unlike anything that has ever been done with boxing in the school system.
“Deep in the core of a person’s soul exists a passion to help others”, stated Brandon Kregel, Feet First Co-Founder, and Managing Director, who was brought onboarded to strategically scale the program. “Our mentorship program is one of the largest pillars of our success because it provides an outlet for people to connect and guide others in need of a supportive environment.”
One of the things, I have noticed as an observer is that the program helps young people who often are getting in trouble and mostly being told what they don’t do well, and gives them a chance to hear positive feedback, and even excel at something. In short, it offers mastery to young people so dissatisfied with their own feelings at the present time that it could possibly unlock new doors of self-discovery, self-discipline, and reflection that is applicable to all walks of life.
It truly is an altruistic environment with a keen sense of welcoming and meeting people where they are right now, as opposed to expecting people to meet a set curriculum.
“This is a wonderful boxing program, that if done right, does have incredible results that school counselors find very valuable,” said Board Member, Licensed Therapist, and School Counselor, Amy Specter. “I’ve done the program hands-on and my students have had unprecedented results. Feet First should be in every school across America.”
The program has now expanded into the State of Texas, with the help of Jorge Sanchez, who is a successful business owner from Brownsville, Texas. With the expansion, the program brought on a super-lightweight contender and 21-year-old boxing phenom Omar Juarez (9-0, 4KOs), of Brownsville, Texas, thanks to Sanchez and made the surging prospect an ambassador not just for his skills in the ring, but his excellent character.
“Boxing teaches discipline and character like no other sport,” said Sanchez. “This program fits right in line with what me and Omar have been doing here in Brownsville. These kids need a push in a positive direction and I believe Feet First Foundation will be a major success in our community.[SIC]”
Juarez, a fighter signed with Premier Boxing Champions, is a babyfaced boxer, who if he went to a sports bar would certainly be ID’ed and doesn’t show the fatigue upon his face of age. The emerging boxing contender is looking at taking over the boxing game, like how he steamrolled high school, graduating from high school at 16-years-old using advanced placement classes to do so. Omar Juarez is the embodiment of the strong character and a perfect example of the program.
“When I was approached by Feet First, I was immediately impressed with their objective,” said Juarez, who fights under the Premier Boxing Champions banner. “I’m excited to see what the program will do for the kids in Brownsville.”
The program which started out as an idea at the old FightKore Boxing Gym in Martinez, California, on Main Street, now has become a beneficial part of the public school system, that some student even said was their favorite part of being in school. As in three-years, the program has been in front of 5,000 students.
As a sport, boxing has always been a sport that drew the interest of the angry and underprivileged. It is the misfit sport, the sport of social outcasts, as anything you learn in a boxing gym is essentially a crime outside of the gym if unprovoked. The sheer nature of combat sports is rebellion.
The Feet First Foundation is drawing upon what brings many into the gym, but models strong character and focuses more on a John Dewey approach to learning as the program is focusing on meaningful activity in learning and participation in democracy, as well as creating civically minded individuals. In short, creating great members of the community, who feel connected to a community.
The program recently announced a collaborative partnership with WBC Cares as well, which is a community-outreach program for the World Boxing Council, one of the largest sanctioning bodies in the world.
“We started the WBC Cares program to help children all around the world and the Feet First Foundation aligns with our goals,” said Jill Diamond, WBC Cares, International Chair. “I can envision this curriculum being implemented in schools nationally and internationally, with a variety of our champions showing support. We are pleased to endorse their movement with this partnership.”
The Feet First Foundation is trying to re-write the narrative around boxing, one that boxing has taken so many years to mess up. As the Feet First Foundation is looking to show that boxing can be a vessel of positive change when the right people are involved with at-risk youth.
For more information on Feet First Foundation, please email [email protected], call Sean Sharkey at (925) 383-3450, or visit www.feetfirstnp.org. Feet First Foundation can be reached at (833) 339-9111.