Boxing is nearly a full-time job for 16-year-old Alex Saucedo.

The 145pound Oklahoma City fighter visits the gym seven days a week in his bid to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. He isn’t sure if his citizenship will come through in time to qualify for the U.S. team or if he will be fighting for the Mexico team, but the Oklahoma City Police Department is chipping in to give him the best possible shot through the Police Athletic League.

At-risk kids needing a safe place to hang out with positive mentors are embraced by the PAL program, which operates through donations. Its biggest fundraiser of the year is Thursday’s OKC Charity Fight Night, featuring one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in boxing, Roy Jones Jr.

Founded in 1991, Oklahoma City PAL started with a boxing program, hoping to develop a healthy bond between police and the inner-city communities. Police Capt. Brian Jennings said between 300 and 500 kids participate every year.

“The program has grown to include soccer, basketball, baseball, mentoring, after-school programs, karate and cheerleading,” said Jennings. “The goal is to create education and recreational opportunities for at-risk youth in order to keep them away from crime and that lifestyle.”

Saucedo said his burgeoning boxing career with 165 amateur fights started with PAL seven years ago.

“They helped with a lot of things,” he said. “They took us to California for the World PAL boxing tournament twice, where they paid for everything, and they sponsor all the bags and stuff at the gym.”

Volunteers maintain the baseball and soccer fields, help pay for supplies and organize the leagues. Jennings said it costs only $10 for a child to sign up for a sport, but finding the funds and the manpower can be difficult.

“The kids are given character training by the volunteer coaches that are police officers, members of the community and parents,” Jennings said. “We just want to make sure the coaches are positive role models.”

John Smith has volunteered for the program for two months.

“I like that I can help the kids out and be a part of the solution,” he said.

Jennings said the payoff works both ways: helping police officers stay involved in the communities they work with and connecting with the youth in a casual environment.

“If they have a positive view of a police officer, then they are less likely to get involved in the bad things they are exposed to daily,” Jennings said. “They realize the good guys are the police, and they should be living that kind of lifestyle.”

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