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Detroit – Before he could react, a young man was jolted by a hard punch to the ribs. Dropping his arm, he was struck in the jaw and again in the ribs.

In this rough neighborhood in northeast Detroit, a punch could lead to a shooting.

Instead, after the three-minute pummeling, the two men slapped hands in a sign of respect.

That’s exactly why three groups – Detroit Police, Osborn Neighborhood Alliance and Matrix Human Services Center – have joined together to begin a boxing school.

They hope local kids find camaraderie, even family, in the middle of a boxing ring.

“It’s a chance to do something positive,” said a volunteer trainer, Herb Robinson.

It’s about more than teaching kids how to bob and weave, stick and move, he said.

The Matrix School of Boxing, which opened last week, will help keep the youths out of trouble by giving them something to do after school three times a week, he said.

The school will promote literacy and social skills by encouraging the youths to read books about boxing and listen to lectures from speakers from all walks of life.

“They can taste it all, do anything,” said Ken Brown, the center’s director. “They can see life outside Eight Mile Road.”

The school grew from a popular midnight basketball and boxing program that began last year at the Matrix community center.

With basketball the biggest draw, the midnight program began with 15 youths and now draws 45, said Brown.

The boxers shared the center’s gym with the basketball players but now have their own space.

The center knocked down a wall in its basement and turned a former storage room into a boxing gym.

With a $5,000 donation from Quicken Loans, it set up a boxing ring, body bag and two speed bags.

The wall has a drawing of a bumble bee with boxing gloves, in honor of Muhammad Ali’s maxim of floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee.

But the gym is a work in progress.

It still needs a wall mirror and the fledgling fighters need more headgear and other equipment.

“They can fight here instead of in the street,” said Carlos Chambers, a volunteer trainer. “There’s no reward for fighting in the street.”

During the grand opening of the boxing gym last week, Brown asked the young boxers what they liked best about the midnight boxing program.

Several gave the same answer: They love to fight.

The school will help them channel their aggression in positive ways, said police Officer Jay Dantzler.

As they learn to box, they’ll also obtain discipline and confidence, he said.

“They look to you for leadership,” he said. “They come to you when they have any other kind of problems.”

Boxing will allow the youths to spread their wings in other ways too, said other volunteers.

As they become good enough to compete in Golden Gloves, they’ll get a chance to travel around the state and country, said organizers.

Some of the kids will be staying at a hotel for the first time in their lives.

Volunteer coaches said they get something out of the experience as well.

Chambers, who fought on the amateur level, said his dreams of turning pro were never fulfilled but he can help others.

“I still can do good things for the kids,” he said.

Dom McCrary, who has been fighting in the midnight program, gives Chambers a lot of credit.

McCrary, 21, said he began fighting with nothing.

Chambers got him boxing gloves, headgear, shoes and hand gear that McCrary was eventually able to pay for.

“Coach Carlos was always by my side,” said McCrary. “It’s a blessing to have someone like that in your life.”

McCrary said he has come to see his coach as family.

And, despite trading blows with other youths for a year, he feels the same way about them.

FDonnelly@detroitnews.com

(313) 223-4186

Twitter: @francisXdonnell

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