(credit: CBSDFW.COM)

(credit: CBSDFW.COM)

DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – In the poverty scarred pockets of East Dallas’ Pleasant Grove neighborhood, that life is a battle is a given.  The only question is where the fight will be waged.  For many of the lucky ones—it’s in the boxing ring at Montoya’s Gym.

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“It started off with about five kids,“ recalled Anthony Montoya.  “And the next thing you know, we had 20 kids here knocking on my doggone door all the time, wanting to come in and box,” he grouses good naturedly.  Because the truth is, he loves it.  And he loves giving back to his community and to his hometown.

Now, Montoya says there are as many as 70 kids who will converge on the gym just off Military Parkway every day after school to embark on a strict regime of exercise, discipline, respect and hard work.

“You can come here, have fun [and] take your anger out on the bag,” says 15-year-old Diana Juarez, “not on the streets where you can ‘feel cool’.  It’s not cool.  It’s cool when you’re in the ring.”

Juarez is one of several female boxers at the gym who are defying stereotypes and winning trophies in the process.

“When I heard about it, I was like so excited,” said Maria Compeon, another 15-year-old who followed some older girl cousins into the boxing ring.  “To see the trophy and see what you have done.”

And while learning how to box, the Montoyas—along with a team of professional and volunteer coaches—also teach the kids about life.  They ask for a monthly donation to keep the gym going; but, no kid is ever turned away because of an inability to pay.  In the process, they learn to earn their way.

“I put them to sweep the gym,” Montoya said of some of the duties.  “I put ‘em to cut some branches.  We’ll go out on Military and pick up trash.  There’s no free ride in life.  No one’s going to give you anything.  No one owes you anything.  You’ve got to work for what you get.”

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The gym is a family affair and the after school program he says give him a chance to work with his brother, Michael, and his father Jesse, who he calls “the boxing guru” with the “eye” for just what each young boxer needs.

Carlos Aranda, calls the gym a “second home.” He says before getting involved in boxing at Montoya’s, he was an angry teen, headed for trouble.  “My teachers, they would try to get through to me; but, I was like a rude kid,” says Aranda, now 14.  “Just like not pay attention in school, used to be a little trouble maker, hang out with the bad crowd, try to skip class.  All negative.  Nothing positive.”

Aranda admits that he’d get an “adrenaline rush” when getting involved in frequent fist fights— fights that he admits, he’d usually lose.  He now realizes that the “rush” could have come at a very high cost. “People don’t fight with hands, now,” he said.  “Now, they pull out knives, they pull out guns.  They win.  You get shot.  They win.”

Now Aranda is learning how to turn discipline and hard work into a better future.  He’s already winning trophies and dreams of one day becoming an Olympian.  But, right now, he’s already found redemption.

Before he found boxing, every call from school was “your son Carlos is in trouble.”  But, now, “my parents are proud.  Now, they’re proud.”

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