Sea Mar Youth Boxing Club Serves South Park Kids

Evan Morud

Youth sports such as soccer and basketball are an often-adored part of childhood. Kids make friends, play games, and learn how to team-build. For the Sea Mar Youth Boxing Club, boxing is the sport that teaches kids the life lessons they need to succeed not only in sports but also in life.

Juan Garcia is the Sea Mar director of Youth Boxing. The club, located in the South Park area of Seattle, is for kids ages 10 to 17. Sometimes, kids younger than 10 participate on a case-by-case basis.

“Probably 90, 95% of our kids are Latino,” Garcia said. “And not just Mexican. We have some Hondurans and some kids from Guatemala and some kids from El Salvador.”

Sea Mar Community Health Centers is the overarching organization that provides funding, a space to meet, access to physicians for sports physicals, and other resources necessary for operating a boxing club. The club has been around for 25 years and reopened in March following a brief closure when the organization moved locations. 

The co-ed club, which meets year-round on weekday evenings in two-hour sessions, provides kids an opportunity to train and learn how to box at no cost. Youth may join the club at any time, and the club annually hosts two main shows featuring boxing bouts –one in May for Cinco de Mayo and another in September for Mexican Independence Day.

Garcia has been involved with the club for over two decades and has seen how boxing can be a strong outlet for youth to improve their physical and social abilities.

“I think it’s the release of being able to physically do something with somebody else,” Garcia said. “I really do believe in hitting the heavy bag and releasing some frustration you had. The next step from there is building that self-confidence that kids get by doing something they thought they couldn’t do.”

A boxing glove designed with the flag of Mexico sits on a glove shelf inside of the Sea Mar Youth Boxing Club’s gym in Seattle on May 20, 2024. Members gradually work their way up to fighting with gloves on, and competitive boxing is not required to participate. (Photo by Evan Morud)
A member of Sea Mar Youth Boxing Club punches a heavy bag inside of the club’s gym in Seattle on May 20, 2024. The gym has a room filled with heavy bags as well as a boxing ring and outdoor space.
(Photo by Evan Morud)
A member of the Sea Mar Youth Boxing Club shadow boxes during a set of warm-up exercises outside of their gym in Seattle on May 20, 2024. Along with boxing drills, building core strength and agility are key aspects of finding success within the ring. (Photo by Evan Morud)
A member of Sea Mar Youth Boxing Club trains inside of the club’s gym in Seattle on May 20, 2024.
(Photo by Evan Morud)

The club’s focus is not just boxing, though.

If students aren’t passing their classes and putting effort into their work, they can’t train.

“We talk on Mondays about school,” Garcia said. “We try to motivate the kids and help them keep focus.”

“They may be the best kid in our gym but we’re going to say to come back when their grades are up,” said Keith Weir, a coach with Sea Mar Youth Boxing Club. “They have to be responsible and manage their time and everything that they do.”

If a youth member needs additional academic support, the coaches can refer them to Sea Mar support services.

Alongside academic commitment, the club aims to teach its members how commitment can lead to success in any aspect of life.

“They learn to put effort into everything in life,” said Oscar Islas, who is the new Sea Mar Youth Boxing Club head coach. “They know that if they put in effort, they will come out on top. The discipline and the courage they learn inside and outside of the ring. They learn to be strong within.”

The club staff emphasizes life skills so that athletes are set up for sustained success after high school. Some of the kids come from a background involving gang violence or domestic violence. The staff wants to ensure that their boxers are inspired to pursue a future that will keep them in a safe and healthy environment.

“A lot of them are the first ones to graduate high school and go to college–still that first-generation kind of cycle,” Garcia said. “Trying to achieve that mindset that education is a way out of being economically disadvantaged. It can be a trade school. It can be something that you like. Motivating you to get education to provide.”

Weir talked about the effects the club can have on the boxers’ lives. 

“The kids always remember the gym and the people they were with,” he Weir. “I’ve seen the gym change lives not just through boxing but through getting along better with parents and feeling better at school. Just keeping them out of gangs, keeping them out of jail, and giving them a place to call home.”

Garcia and Islas, who joined the club as a kid and have remained active for 14 years, both said the boxers experience positive change in and out of the boxing ring.

“Keeping kids out of the streets. Teaching discipline and the sport of boxing,” said Islas. “The kids love the sport and turn their lives around. We know a couple people that are now in the pros doing great. That’s what I love: The change it brings to everybody’s life.”

“I sparred for one minute, and now I’m at two minutes, or I hit the bag for 30 seconds, and now I’m at a minute and a half,” said Garcia. “Those moments give these kids that change of self-confidence that builds. We try to translate that into life skills. Just do a little bit more than you did yesterday.”

Along with teaching boxing and life skills, the club serves as a resource network for its members. The Sea Mar organization can help its athletes stay physically and mentally healthy outside of the ring by providing behavioral health services, dental care, and medical providers who give physicals for participation at no cost.

“It’s a holistic view of your health, your education, working hard, and self-determination,” Garcia said. “Hopefully, that translates into something they can do in life.”

Ultimately, positive lifelong impacts are the club’s hope for its members.

“These gyms in inner cities are saving many lives,” Weir said. “We don’t know what those kids are doing to help other kids they know outside of the gym.”

Evan Morud is a writer, photographer, and third-year student at the University of Washington. He is pursuing a double major in Journalism and Public Interest Communication and Art: Photo Media. He seeks to tell stories through visual coverage and the words of the communities he serves. Outside of school, he enjoys watching baseball, trying new restaurants, and spending time with friends.

Evan Morud

Publisher’s Notes: Washington Latino News and a class in the Journalism and Public Interest Communication program at the University of Washington are partners in best serving the Hispanic and Latino communities.