Steely and wry, 14-year-old Arnold Baird has his eye on his prey.

“I definitely want to be a pro,” he said, clutching his boxing bag.

The Arente teenager has been boxing for three years. In some ways, it was inevitable that he would find the sport.

“When we were younger, we used to fight a lot,” Baird said.

“I was with the wrong audience and stuff and felt like I had to prove myself.

At his father’s suggestion he took up boxing and eventually found his way to the Alente Boxing Academy.

“It gave me discipline — I came to training,” Baird said.

“I’ve been busy, so it freed me up a lot. You could say I was trained.”

Jim’s head coach, Jason Lord, was a former boxing champion and wasn’t all that different from Baird growing up.

Boxing also put him on the right track.

“All the trouble and all the crap I had, boxing was always there,” Lorde previously told ABC.

A dark-haired, pepper-bearded man in a hoodie sits in a gym.
Jason Lord says gyms are positive places for young people.(ABC Alice Springs: Samantha Johnsher)

“a kind of therapy”

Alice Springs has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons.

The prime minister visited outback areas last week to announce changes to alcohol policies to curb crime rates.

But community members say proactive programs like Rose’s could play a key role in addressing the town’s burgeoning property crime problem.

“Boxing has a natural way of helping people,” Lorde said.

“There are many children who get lost.

“We help them stay on the water so they can stay in school. It’s a holistic approach.”

Founded four years ago and run entirely on a volunteer basis, the gym’s coaches also serve as mentors and build relationships with young people who walk through the doors of the academy.

“Kids just want love and want to feel safe,” said Lorde.

“It’s about giving them a place to feel safe and that’s what we’re doing here. We listen to them. It’s a kind of therapy.

“A lot of the out-mentors have a kid-like background like this and chat with them about getting out of it.”

Nick Shehadi
Nick Shehadie is a teacher during the day and a gym mentor after hours. (ABC Alice Springs: Samantha Johnsher)

“tough love”

Nick Shehadi, teacher by day and mentor by night, said the discipline required in boxing can lead young people to good results.

“When the children come, they are treated with love and care,” he said.

“Boxing also has a tough love, but kids learn respect for themselves and their communities, discipline, and not to make hasty decisions.”

The gym also hosts women’s, family and after school programs.

We also work directly with local Indigenous schools and a non-profit social enterprise, Saltbush. Saltbush helps bail out young people in trouble with the law.

Lorde said some of these youngsters were “the ringleaders of what’s going on on the streets” but were like “other kids” at the gym.

“They love it here,” he said.

“We are developing them to be community leaders.”

Lorde has seen dozens of young people join the gym and turn their lives around.

Young man sitting in corner of boxing ring.
Students at Ipirinya School regularly visit the gym during and after school hours.(ABC Alice Springs: Samantha Johnsher)

‘Not just boxing’

With strong ties to the gymnasium, the Ipirinya School teaches in five indigenous languages ​​and works to create a culturally safe environment for First Nations students.

Principal Gavin Morris said he “absolutely” saw it change young people for the better.

“Improving attendance, improving behavior, improving resilience, improving coping strategies — boxing isn’t the only thing they do,” he said.

“These coaches understand the context of the community. They understand the complexities of the background our children come from: the strengths, the barriers and the limitations.”

A young girl is working on a heavy bag in a boxing gym.
Gyms are open to people of all ages and backgrounds.(ABC Alice Springs: Samantha Johnsher)

Morris said Jim’s “strengths-based” community-driven approach is part of its success.

Over the past two years, Jim has received about $5,000 from the Northern Territory government, but Lord said continued funding would make a big difference to the program.

Lord said he “loves doing” the job and will continue as a volunteer.

But he said the lack of funding has made it difficult to keep mentors coming back as volunteers every day.


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