Jose Hernandez, 37, hung up his gloves as a professional boxer three years ago, but now the Round Lake resident is looking to pick them up again -- to teach boxing to at-risk youths in the community.
Hernandez got approval last week from the Round Lake village board to start work on the training academy to be housed in a warehouse near Nippersink and Cedar Lake Road in the downtown area. A late-August opening is planned.
But the academy, which as yet has no name, is not just about boxing. Hernandez and the company he and his father started, Falling Stars Inc., want to create a kind of facility devoted to setting young people on the path to success. They hope to accomplish this through rigorous training and mentoring programs in sports, music and dance.
The academy is open to anyone willing to learn, but Hernandez especially wants to focus on providing mentors to disadvantaged kids who he says have been failed by society.
"We can train these kids to exceed their potential by pushing them. Boxing did it for me. It's hard work," Hernandez said.
He is no stranger to hard work. He won the national Golden Gloves tournament in 1997 as a young amateur boxer. As a professional boxer, he had a similarly impressive career; he hopes to use this reputation to entice potential students to join his academy.
Despite the village's approval of their plan, the father and son still need permits, and they need to finish the building that will house the academy.
Hernandez and some volunteers are working to renovate the dusty 4,400-square-foot warehouse. Equipment and heavy beams lay across the floor. The skeleton of a new boxing ring sits in the corner.
By the end of the year Hernandez hopes to have at least 50 people to mentor and a team of volunteers who will teach more than just boxing. In three to four years, he hopes to have 1,000 students. To Hernandez, education is key to breaking vicious cycles of gang violence and poverty. Getting kids into college is just as important as teaching them how to be a skilled boxer or how to play an instrument well.
"In 10 years from now you will see ... we'll have kids be in colleges who already have a great background in, say, sports, who get scholarships because of that background in sports," Hernandez said.
His company plans to start the academy as a for-profit business with Hernandez and a few friends teaching boxing. They'll charge a monthly $30 to $40 fee for lessons to start, but Hernandez and his company soon hope to go nonprofit and provide mentoring free with the addition of more volunteers and philanthropic aid, he said.
Those interested in helping Falling Stars Inc. can attend an Aug. 22 fundraising dinner at 7 p.m. at the Hernandez's family-owned bar, Copas, in downtown Round Lake. For information call (847) 546 4433.
Mayor Dan MacGillis said the academy will be good for local children, but he also hopes it will help stimulate business in Round Lake's ailing downtown.
"I wish we had more people like him (Hernandez)," MacGillis said.
Hernandez said he's starting small and working his way up. A boxing ring in a downtown warehouse is just one gateway, for him and Round Lake's children, to a much brighter future.
"We're creating something bigger than boxing," he said.