By Erika Webb
Coach Ed Alvarado said it's a good thing God's plan prevailed over his, or no telling what would have happened.
He's not in prison and he's not dead.
Sometimes he roams the streets looking for kids smoking dope. He invites them to the gym.
Christopher Lopez has lived in Deltona since the age of six. He attended Deltona Elementary School, Galaxy Middle School and Pine Ridge High School.
The 24-year old said he might have been one of those kids Mr. Alvarado is talking about if not for Taino Boxing Academy.
Instead he's a professional fighter with a record of 5-0; two of those wins were by knockout. As an amateur, he won seven Florida State Championships.
"Taino keeps me out of drugs, out of the streets and teaches me respect, honor, how to stay out of trouble," he said. "I follow my family's tradition, honoring God."
Mr. Lopez comes from a family of boxers. He said his father, uncle, brother and cousins have all boxed.
His uncle, Irving Rodriguez, a retired Air Force Chief, was a member of the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team back in the '70s. He fought Hector "Macho" Camacho in Las Vegas, Mr. Lopez said.
"He didn't win the fight because Camacho head butted him," Mr. Lopez said smiling.
Taino Boxing Academy is in Deltona's Campbell Park. It is licensed through USA Boxing, the national governing body for Olympic-style amateur boxing. Mr. Alvarado said there are no joining fees or dues, and there is essentially no operating account.
"We don't have any funds from anyone," he said. "When they can, the kids chip in $15 for water."
He said the City of Deltona provides the building and the utilities, and he is grateful for that.
"I'm not one to promote any politician," he said. "But I gotta say 'hats off' to Mayor (John) Masiarczyk. He and some of the commissioners helped us stay here when the city wanted us out."
He's referring to some issues raised in 2011. Deltona City Commissioners became concerned with potential liability to the city and with Mr. Alvarado's past. He was arrested on a variety of charges over several years.
"Hey, I'm no angel," Mr. Alvarado said. "But I know we've kept more than one kid out of jail in the last 10 years."
He said personal experience helps him help the community's at-risk youth.
Ultimately the commission voted 4-3 in favor of letting the boxing training facility stay.
Mr. Alvarado started boxing 51 years ago. He said he wasn't very good, but he's always loved the sport. That love has spilled over into the community.
"Our main objective here is to get these young cats right," he said. "This is a tough sport. It's not for everybody. If you can discipline yourself to do this, you can achieve anything you want in life. You can't fail."
Since turning pro, Mr. Lopez travels between Deltona and Arizona, where he boxes in the lightweight division for Iron Boy Promotions.
But the little gym in Campbell Park is home.
"Here, it's peaceful," he said. "At other gyms trainers watch me. They want to challenge me with their fighters. Here, everyone is very friendly and focused on training. We help each other as a team of Taino Boxing Academy."
Mr. Lopez gestured toward the small boxing ring at the front of the room.
"We have a little area but we share the space, the ring, together ... teamwork," he said smiling.
There are many coaches at Taino.
One of them, whom Mr. Alvarado referred to only as "Coach Andy," regularly drives a 13-year-old boy named George to and from the gym.
Mr. Alvarado said George suffers from autism and that the 6-foot tall, 220-pound boy's father told coaches that before joining Taino, George would sit in front of the television all day.
"He's a good kid. He hugs everybody several times when he's here. We have to remind him he's here to fight," Mr. Alvarado said, laughing. "He's a great kid!"
The minimum age to box at Taino is eight.
"I've gone to city hall many times and said so many times, 'Why wait until they're incarcerated?'" he said. "Get 'em before the cops do."
Mr. Lopez said the speed drills, power drills and boxing drills, all done in "sequential formation, military style," help teach discipline and more.
Mr. Alvarado does not put in easy days.
The 57-year-old construction manager said the gym is open six nights a week from 5 to 9 p.m.
"At the end of the day, aside from keeping them out of trouble, we get them in the best shape of their life."