By George Block
I was wrong.
I spent the last three years working on the near Westside. I got to know Jason Mata, first as the president of the Prospect Hills Neighborhood Association, then as the director of the Advocates Youth Boxing Program. I couldn’t put the two together in my head.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I was a founder of the San Antonio Sports Foundation back in 1984 and am the current chairman. In that role, I had always fought against boxing. I thought that we probably should not support a sport whose object is to damage your opponent’s brain.
I met Jason for lunch. I told him that I didn’t really think we should be supporting kids trying to knock each other unconscious. He laughed. “We do non-contact boxing.”
Non-contact boxing? “This isn’t about boxing,” Mata continued. “This is about all those ‘selfs’, you know: self- image, self-esteem, self-confidence, self-discipline.” By now I was leaning forward over my caldo pescado.
Jason Mata is also a social worker, which made the social worker/boxing coach seem like an oxymoron, until he started to explain his world view. “Kids’ self-image comes from their peer group. The best thing we can do as parents is give them a great peer group, surrounded by adults who care.
“Their self-confidence comes from doing something they have never done before. Self-esteem comes from doing something they thought they could never do. Self-discipline comes from wanting to do it better and better.
“We just use boxing as a tool. 90% of them will never get in the ring and when they do, they leave our (Advocates) program and join the boxing club. We first want to give them a safe place after school. Next, we want to get them in shape. We use all the boxing fitness routines to do that. Then we start teaching them new things: speed bag, heavy bag, footwork, sparring with a coach using mitts.
“Boxing is ‘different’. If their self-image can be as a boxer, then they won’t be afraid to be different in other ways. They can avoid the drug dealers. They can be good students. They can be athletes in school.
“It’s really all about our neighborhood. There is a lot of negative stuff going on around here.” Mata pointed out the window toward the drug dealers on the corner. “We don’t want them to become street fighters, in fact, we kick them out if they do, but we do want them to know that they can take care of themselves.
“Once they feel like they can take care of themselves, they can take care of each other. Once they start taking care of each other, they can take care of their community.” Suddenly the social worker/boxing coach/neighborhood association president all made sense.
I was wrong…again.
NOTE: The Advocates Youth Boxing Program has received national recognition, but like so many vital programs on the west side, it is struggling to stay alive. To CONTRIBUTE, please go to
To see some of their NATIONAL RECOGNITION, please go to
George Block recently stepped down as CEO of Haven for Hope and is now Chairman of the Board for both San Antonio Sports, as well as Voices for Children. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.