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A fighting chance: Coaching builds connections, opens avenues toward mentorship

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William Dale’s life had a difficult start. One of 13 children, he grew up in numerous near-eastside neighborhoods with reputations for violence and crime. The authority figures in his life labeled him a malicious troublemaker. At the age of 10, Dale was arrested for theft. At the age of 14, he threatened to kill a teacher and slashed her tires.

“They threw me out of school and I ended up in a mental hospital, then they threw me out of there, too. I would walk to the gym, and they started teaching me boxing,” said Dale.

Today, at age 62, Dale is a youth mentor and two-time state boxing champion who has also worked for IU health for 18 years. He credits the counseling he received from officers in the Indianapolis Police Athletic League (also known as the PAL Club) for helping him turn his life around.

The PAL Club is an initiative by IMPD that aims to foster relationships between the police department and local youth. They engage young people in sports such as football, volleyball and basketball, while providing mentorship.

Shawn Anderson (pictured with students) is not only a coach, but a mentor who equips local teens with skills they need to succeed inside and outside of the ring. 


According to youth.gov, a U.S. government website that provides information to help strengthen youth programs, the benefits of mentorship include increased high school graduation rates, healthier relationships and lifestyle choices, enhanced self-esteem and self-confidence and higher college enrollment rates. 

In Dale’s case, a PAL officer took the time to mentor him while training him in the sport of boxing and offering support and guidance during different times in his life. 

“Role models for me were those police officers. I learned that not all of them are bad; it’s the bad officers who give good officers a bad name. The things that go on now, is because police and the adults are not as involved in the young people’s lives,” said Dale. 

Shawn Anderson, a youth services and community engagement officer, says the local PAL club is growing. Last year, Anderson started a Bodyweight High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) class at Washington Park.

“It just so happened that the world famous Sarge Johnson Boxing Gym had taken residence in the park; I didn’t realize they had moved there. As I started putting on my class, the boxing students said, ‘Wow, we would like to check this out,’ and me and coach Chambers (of the Sarge Johnson Boxing Gym) partnered up,” explained Anderson, who says the most important aspect of his classes are 

the way they positively impact the lives of youth. He tries to spend at least 20 minuets of each class asking the students about school, learning about their lives at home and teaching them about bullying and how to positively interact with the police.

“Having been a police officer for 17 years, I saw a lot of negativity and a lot of punishment. You would see people getting locked up and the same person is out a couple days later, then they get locked up again. So I figured let’s think outside the box and try to stop them from getting locked up in the first place,” said Anderson. “We find that if quality of life is low, crime rate is high. Boxing keeps them out of the streets and helps them to better deal with the stresses of society; it releases endorphins in their brain and lowers depression. It teaches them respect, discipline and control.”

Anderson isn’t the only Hoosier using coaching as an avenue toward mentorship. Olympic medal-winning boxer Anthony Sims owns Sims Boxing Gym, where he teaches local youth the skills they will need to succeed in the gym and in life. Sims, who lost his father at the age of 6, knows firsthand the impact that a lack of positive male mentorship can have on a young person.

Students at Sims Boxing Gym learn discipline, self-control, respect and integrity. 


“My mother thought enrolling me in boxing would be a smart move. She didn’t want me to grow up being soft. I was being raised in a female-dominated house, so she wanted me to get around other men,” Sims said.

Sims has traveled with students to tournaments all around the country, including Ohio, Texas and California. Last weekend, he hosted an awards ceremony for his students at a local church to celebrate their accomplishments.

“We give out trophies and awards … such as best boxer, best team player, and each boy gets a trophy for something. We want people to see that it’s not just boxing that we teach — we also teach discipline, self-control, respect and integrity. Then we send them out into life with those characteristics,” said Sims.

Anderson says that, above all, he wants the boys to know that someone is looking out for them and has vested interest in their life, inside and outside of the ring. 

“We don’t know if these kids feel loved, of if they have a male role model to look out for them,” he said. “They may have never hung out with a male except for classmates. Overall, we do our best to show them that we care.”

To learn more about Sims Boxing Gym, call (219) 588-3257. For more information on the PAL club, call (317) 327-3187.

Students at Sims Boxing Gym

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