School of hardknocks opens

Taking community youth off the streets

By Nikki Blankenship - [email protected]

There are many benefits to participating in a sport, especially for young children. It can be a lot of fun, a great way to stay physically active, a chance to make friends along with the chance to develop discipline, teamwork, confidence, and purpose. However, not all athletes are well suited for common sports such as football, basketball, and baseball.

Understanding the potential benefits from athletic competition and involvement, Phil Bender, of Minford, is taking the youth of the community to the school of hard knocks, in effort to bring them in off the streets and teach them to be better people by working it out in the gym. It is a gym that is truly open to anyone and is making some significant impacts on some young people.

Bender runs the Hardknocks Boxing and Fitness Training Center located in the former Blondie’s building on Clay Street in Portsmouth. The non-profit gym teaches boxing, karate, mixed martial arts, judo and self-defense and is open to anyone above the age of six with a focus on youth intervention.

“Basically, we wanted to get something to get kids off the streets. A lot of kids aren’t interested in basketball, baseball and basketball. This is an option for those kids,” Bender stated.

Bender explained that he first starting thinking about opening such a center about 20 years ago.

“I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time,” he commented.

However, he was always busy with other things. Bender has coached for several other area gyms in addition to working during the day. Recently, however, Bender says people have really been reaching out and showing support for something like Hardknocks. Bender started making contacts and getting his vision underway. He partnered with friend Jo Collins, who now helps him run the gym. Local real estate agent Neil Hatcher helped Bender to secure the building, he was able to find the right coaches and teachers who (including a judo instructor and a karate instructor), area businesses started donating equipment and the community response was tremendous.

“30 people showed up on the first day,” Bender confirmed. “It’s a great atmosphere. Everybody supports everybody. Everyone shows up everyday and works hard.”

When Bender says that the center is for everyone he really means it. Those training at Hardknocks come from all backgrounds, fitness levels, and economic backgrounds.

“We don’t turn anybody away,” Bender stressed. “If someone wants to be a part of what we do, we’ll make it happen for them.”

Bender explained that the gym is not just for fighters. Members never have to fight or get in the ring if they do not want.

“We have several that come just to get in shape,” said Bender.

Though there is a $40 monthly fee to cover the building rental, utilities and equipment, Bender says that none of the coaches get paid. They are all volunteers who are there because they believe in what they are offering to these young people. Thus, when someone can not afford the fee, Bender says the coaches chip in to help cover the cost. Additionally, because Hardknocks is a non-profit, businesses can also sponsor athletes. All are welcome to try a night, free, in order to determine if this is the right activity for them.

Bender explained that people come into the gym often for help with issues. Some have been bullied and are looking for a way to feel safe and confident on their own. Some struggled with addiction. Others were bullies and needed to learn discipline and respect.

“A lot of people say kids are on Xbox too much,” Bender stated. “This gets them active, builds confidence, helps them meet friends and teaches them work ethic. This is a diverse group, so there is always an opportunity to find someone with similar interests. And, they work. This is hard work.”

Bender explained that with all of the issues plaguing youth, including drugs, violence, crime and bullying, this is an opportunity for him to do something to make a difference.

“We are at ground zero. If we put one positive thing in this community, maybe we can change some kids,” Bender said. “We took a bar and turned it into something positive. We have helped those that have been bullied. We also fix the bullies. And, we have had several young men that were addicted to drugs, and now they’re addicted to this.”

Already, Bender has seen a major impact in many of his fighters and trainees. He says they are continually asking for ways that they can now give to the area. They want to help the elderly or feed the hungry. Bender is there to support all of their goals, especially such positive ones.

“We’re trying to be more of a community outreach,” Bender added.

Bender would like to do more to further encourage the youth he is working with. He hopes to be able to offer them more opportunities in the future to reward their efforts. Hardknocks is currently looking for revenue that could help them to raise money for fights and for a van to transport the kids to their competitions or outreach activities.

Hardknocks is open from 6-8 p.m. Monday through Friday. More information can be found by calling 740-250-1993 or checking out the Hardknocks Training Center Facebook page.

Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1924.
Taking community youth off the streets

By Nikki Blankenship

[email protected]