Boxing booms as sports are cut from schools

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TOLEDO - In a lot of towns, budget cuts have hit sports programs especially hard. But in Toledo, Ohio, CBS News correspondent Seth Doane reports some parents and students are refusing to stay down for the count.

Boxing may be a brutal sport, but it's called a "Sweet Science." Sure, there's the hook and jab to perfect, but the teens at Soul City Boxing in Toledo are conditioning more than just their bodies.

"They teach us how to be respectful - not disrespectful," said 11-year-old Otha Jones III.

Boxing is about discipline, agility - and here - something far more practical too.

"I started this gym because there is nothing for the kids to do," said Otha Jones, the gym's owner. "With the budget cuts they keep cutting the sports out of school."

Last year, when Toledo public schools had to eliminate $39 million from the budget, wrestling, golf and track were cut - as were all middle school and freshman athletics.

Sixteen-year-old Allah Wright points to a scar from a bullet wound as proof of his rough childhood. He said his school does not have sports - so kids turn to the streets.

"That was the worst thing they could do. That's one of the main reasons most people go to school is for sports," Wright said. "Now they cutting them- that's just making more kids get out on the streets."

Are students falling through the cracks?

"I don't want to say they're falling through the cracks," said Jim Gault, chief academic officer for the Toledo public schools. "I think there's a need there and we recognize that.

The school district is trying to re-instate some sports next year. But there are more budget cuts to come.

Seeing a need, Otha Jones and his partners turned an old space above a hair salon into Soul City Boxing. It's $10 a week to join.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if a kid has idle time with nothing to do - he's going to get in trouble," Jones said. "I'm trying to create an alternative and I'm trying to save a life or two."

Save a life through boxing?

"Yes," Otha said. "Because boxing has structure."

Many of the kids now training for the ring are refugees from other sports. Down the street at "Bang Em or Hang Em," Owner Chris Lawrence said he's not just a trainer - but a father-figure.

"They don't have anyone to lead them in the right direction," Lawrence said. "But they are walking the wrong path."

Daitwon Tailor Felt said boxing helps him focus on academics. "It keeps me out of trouble - it keeps me focused on my work."

In this community left to fend for itself, the boxing ring has become an unlikely refuge.