WATSONVILLE — Watsonville’s Police Activities League (PAL) has at last gone back to its roots.
One of its greatest success stories has too.
Teaming up with Noble Boxing and famed female boxer Carina Moreno, Watsonville PAL is once again molding youths brave enough to grind through the strenuous conditioning, slide on the gloves and throw some punches.
Sessions are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:15-4:15 p.m. at Watsonville PAL’s Rodriguez Street location.
A $15 enrollment fee gives kids 8 and older access to an hour-long training session with Moreno and her longtime trainer Rick Noble. It also allows the kids to participate in numerous other Watsonville PAL programs, including its upcoming skate and science camps as well as its martial arts, soccer and leadership programs.
Watsonville PAL executive director Coresta Angelo said the organization is in the process of making boxing a year-round program after a clamoring from the community.
“There’s a need for it,” Angelo said. “People wanted this.”
Chief of Police David Honda was among those who wanted to see the once-proud program return. Watsonville’s top cop a few months ago heard Moreno speak at a youth symposium in town, and floated the idea of restarting the program. His elevator pitch to Moreno: come back to your roots and give back to your community.
“We talked, and we said ‘that’d be great — nothing like giving back to where I came from,’” Moreno, 37, said. “This is where I first started.”
Last decade, Moreno was one of the most dominant female boxers in the world. A slight but speedy and technical fighter with impeccable footwork, Moreno won 21 of her first 22 pro fights, including eight titles bouts. And before that she was considered the top amateur female boxer in the world, all while calling Watsonville PAL’s boxing gym home.
Moreno thrice won the U.S. Women’s Nationals and the U.S. Golden Gloves. She was also victorious at PAL nationals and the National Blue & Gold tournament, and she won the gold medal at the Pan-American Games and bronze at the World Boxing Championships.
Moreno, who with Noble owns a boxing gym on East Lake Avenue, is serious about building herself back up for another run at a title bout — she’s won her last two fights, including a victory earlier this month south of the border — and coming back to where it all began has given her a new perspective on her journey.
“It looks different, but it definitely does bring back memories of when I first started,” Moreno said.
Watsonville PAL’s Rodriguez Street location was originally a boxing gym, and the structure — a plain, square building with high ceilings — still has the echoes of years past when the thwacks of gloves connecting with punching bags rang on a daily basis. But the boxing program “lost its way” in the mid-2000s, according to Angelo, and in 2005 PAL moved its focus to Tae Kwon Do and other martial arts.
Moreno said Watsonville PAL’s boxing gym was “more than just a gym” during its heyday.
“Some of the kids didn’t want to compete. They just wanted to be here and hang out,” Moreno said. “It was a safe place for them to be. When they closed it down, it was very sad.”
But the cancellation of the boxing program didn’t mean the hollowing of PAL as a whole. The organization has since grown into a leadership-based program that offers other activities besides athletics. Angelo said PAL also runs community movie nights and camping, biking and hiking trips and takes kids on visits to local colleges.
Their goal, Angelo said, is to create a relationship between the kids in the community and the police officers that drop in from time to time.
“We really want to empower kids and let them know that there are safe spaces to come hang out, and for them to realize that there are adults in this community that care and want to give back and want to empower them to be contributing adults and make our community better,” Angelo said.
Count Moreno and Noble as two of those adults. At their gym, the duo trains young boxers who are serious about the sport, and the difficult combination of art and science that goes into becoming a successful boxer.
At Watsonville PAL, Moreno and Noble teach the basics — how to walk and punch, the correct stance and how to breathe — all while keeping a big smile and a loose, encouraging attitude with those new to the sport.
“It’s fun to see them from where they first started, and then to look down the road a month later and see the big progress that they’ve done,” Moreno said.
The boxing program, Noble said, is hoping to see the same type of progress in the near future.
“It’s going to take a little bit of effort to get this thing going, but we’re interested in getting it going,” Noble said. “It’s like helping someone ride a bike. We’re going to help them get along and once they can start pedaling we can let them go. How long is that going to take? We’re not really sure.”
For information on Watsonville PAL boxing or their other summer programs visit watsonvillepal.org or call 763-4146.