|The 18 middle and high school students race around a makeshift track, jogging forward, then backward and sideways, trying not to fall behind as their coaches lead the way.
For the last six months, these students have spent their afternoons in the Crittenden Middle School gym learning how to box. Every day after the final school bell rings, they line up in the gym, ready to do laps and core strengthening exercises with their coaches, who are all local police officers.
The program is the newest addition by the Mountain View Police Activity League (PAL), which pairs at-risk youth with officers to play sports and work out some of that extra energy -- before it's channeled in the wrong direction.
As they stretch, the coaches help the students, who are both girls and boys, with their technique, and playfully challenge the ones who can't keep up.
"It's fun and the coaches are good at teaching," Crittenden seventh grader Fred Jordan said. "They make us sweat a lot."
Ron Cooper, a school resource officer who works with the Mountain View Whisman School District, brought the program to this campus last spring, and recruited his brother-in-law Alfonso Hernandez, a San Jose officer, and Mountain View police officer James Goevarra to help coach. PAL pays for the program costs, but the coaches volunteer their time, and also took a course to become certified boxing trainers.
From his work with the students on campus, Cooper saw that many of them needed an outlet. These practices have become almost a form of counseling for most of the boxers.
"It is important for them to do something positive and get their energy out without getting in trouble," said Cooper, who boxed in the Army.
The program only recently acquired some real boxing equipment, and after half a year of training and learning how to land hooks and jabs -- and spending the last two weeks assembling a ring -- the students were ready to start boxing. On Tuesday, other officers and police Chief Scott Vermeer came to watch as students used the new ring and equipment for the first time.
"It is a huge part of Coop's life -- making sure all of these kids get on the right path," Vermeer said of the coach.
After stretching and running, the students split up. Some work on boxing techniques with their coaches, some practice in front of the mirror, some use the new equipment and punching bags.
Cooper has two ironclad rules for the students: They must maintain a C average in school, and may not box outside the ring. Part of the league's intention is to teach the students respect for fighting.
Because boxing "is 90 percent endurance," Cooper said, the program teaches self-reliance: "If you are not conditioned, you are going to get knocked out. You can't blame anyone but yourself."
Other PAL leagues have their own boxing programs, and the coaches hope their students will be ready to compete with the others soon. These matches will go onto the students' records, beginning their amateur career.
In fact, next year the local team will travel to Southern California for a statewide PAL boxing tournament. The trip will be sponsored by the Mountain View Police Department.
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