20th Street Gym's competitive boxing program returns home

After several months of displacement, the 20th Street Gym's competitive boxing program is headed back to its home at the 20th Street Recreation Center in downtown Denver. Coach Robert Baca, who's run the program for almost a decade, says he's decided to take one of two options offered to him by the Denver Department of Parks and Recreation, after the city decided to restructure many of the programs offered at department facilities. (Read more in my Westword cover story "On the Ropes".) Although he would have liked more negotiating room, Baca says that getting his team back to 20th Street was his main priority.

"Basically, after the [November 6] meeting over at the Glenarm Center, Parks and Rec gave us the two options," he says. "They wouldn't stray from that -- so they wasted two weeks of my time, just to come back and tell me the same thing. I had no choice but to accept their offer."

That offer means that participants in the 20th Street Gym's competitive boxing program will now pay for the sessions Baca teaches. Prior to the restructuring, this intense training was essentially free.

The first option was a partnership agreement in which Baca could rent the gym and possibly find his own funding to support the program. "Interestingly enough," Baca says, "through all of this time that they had been trying to persuade me to take that first option, they never indicated what the price was actually going to be -- they said the first year of gym rental was going to be free, and the second year would be 50 percent off, and then the third year, it would go to regular price.

"But they never said what regular price was -- and I found out that it was going to be $1,050 a month," he says. "That's pretty outrageous. I was leaning on going that direction if they would work with me and give me a reasonable price. I would look for sponsors and the students would pay a portion of it, but there's no way I was going to make that."

With the option that Baca chose, , his youth students will pay $260 a year for just his classes, which are three times a week, separated into several week sessions that run throughout the year. Through the Mayor's My Denver program, kids under seventeen can have access to rec centers across the city for free, which Baca says is important to his boxers' training, as they need to keep up a workout regiment outside of his classes.

But Baca still worries about his adult students, many of whom are low-income individuals who may not be able to afford paying $240 a year for a gym membership, plus the $792 it will cost to train with him. Baca acknowledges that the P.L.A.Y. program -- a Parks and Rec financial aid application that gives discounts based on income -- could help his students, but he still has concerns for many who have no money at all.

"I have no idea what that discount is at this point," says Baca. "I'm going to have to get sponsors for some of these kids anyway -- I've got a kid on government assistance already. He has no money whatsoever. I've been picking him up or having someone pick him up to bring him out to Golden Gloves just to practice."

The Golden Gloves Charities Gym in Wheat Ridge runs a competitive boxing program as well, and offered Baca's team a place to train during these months of uncertainty. Baca says his experience with Golden Gloves has been so positive, he hopes to keep his students training there at least some of the time. But getting his team back to its home in downtown Denver was necessary for its success, as some of his students couldn't always get out to Wheat Ridge to work with him.

Baca and his team will be back at the 20th Street Gym for training starting December 3. He says he is happy to have gotten the issue settled and to have his students training at 20th Street again. But he's planning on contacting Mayor Michael Hancock to see if some of the financial obstacles can be removed for those who need the program most.

"There's benefits that this program gives the city -- there are hundreds of champions who have come out of 20th Street," says Baca. "We're going to try to generate this money for the city for what? They're going to try to squeeze money our of these inner-city kids because the city needs money? It just doesn't seem right to me or any of my supporters." From our archives: The 20th Street Boxing program is fighting for its future.

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Bree Davies is a multimedia journalist, artist advocate and community organizer born and raised in Denver. Rooted in the world of Do-It-Yourself arts and music, Davies co-founded Titwrench experimental music festival, is host of the local music and comedy show Sounds on 29th on CPT12 Colorado Public Television and is creator and host of the civic and social issue-focused podcast, Hello? Denver? Are You Still There? Her work is centered on a passionate advocacy for all ages, accessible, inclusive, non-commercial and autonomous DIY art spaces and music venues in Denver.
Contact: Bree Davies