Its 4 p.m. on a sizzling Monday afternoon in the Central Valley, a few weeks away from the official start of summer. At least, thats what the calendar indicates. The thermometer has run out of patience and is already acting like its August.
Temperatures are well into triple digits and theres not much relief inside the Maddux Youth Center on Modestos west side.
Oblivious to the heat, in walks 84-year-old Louis Jordan, right on time for an interview with The Bee.
Jordan runs the Police Activities Leagues boxing program, designed to give at-risk youths a positive channel for their energies. Through the years, though, it has morphed into a program not just for troubled kids, but also for those who have a desire to learn and dedicate themselves to a goal.
As kids start to trickle into the gym, Jordan begins putting them through their paces. His assistants Eddie and Manuel Diaz, Eddie Montana, Vanessa Montero and Fernando Wilson handle most of the training, but Jordan, who has spent the past 60 years coaching kids on how to box, oversees it all.
And he doesnt miss a beat.
Tell those girls over there to start exercising, he tells an assistant, pointing out two preteen girls on the opposite side of the gym who seem more interested in chatting than doing their sit-ups.
Louis has dedicated his life to working with youth, says retired Modesto police Officer Randy Buchanan, who serves as the PAL director. Hes what holds the boxing program together and hes always there for kids when they need something.
A lot of kids are on the edge and if not for something like this, they could go the other way.
Jordan, the father of four and a native of Bastrop, La. about two hours east of Shreveport migrated to Oakland when he was 9 years old, two years after the death of his mother. His father, David, who raised him and his seven siblings, instilled a work ethic in his youngest child that is still going strong today.
So, youre a man of action, arent you?
Lets do things. Dont sit on your butt if youve got things to do, my father used to say. He was quite a guy.
There was a little guy at school that used to chase me and I was afraid of him. My brothers would go home and tell him, Daddy, Bubba ran from a boy today. Bubba that was my nickname in the family. My father had this old razor strap and he said, You know, if I catch you running from anybody else, Im gonna take this strap and tear you up. Then he said, I want to tell you another thing: I dont ever want to hear of you hating anybody. You fight anybody but dont hate anybody.
So hate has never come into me. I dont care who you are or what you do or what color you are, theres no hate in me for anybody.
Your father was a big influence on you, wasnt he?
After my mother died, he kept all of us kids together, even my oldest sister and she was already married. All the aunties and uncles wanted to take one of us and he said, No way. I promised your mother I was going to keep you kids together. And he did. We were always together. He never farmed us out.
Howd you get interested in boxing?
When I was around 14 years old, I was going to school with a lot of guys and they were, you know, some of them were boxing. So I started going to the gym. My father had a friend, Mr. Green, they worked together. He was a Pullman porter. He encouraged me and I started boxing at that time. First fight, I got wiped out. It was in Vallejo at a smoker.
Whats a smoker?
Its when youd box in bars. Its kind of funny, because my oldest brother was sitting there yelling for me. Later, the guy that whipped my butt asked him, Do you know him? My brother said, No, I dont know him.
Finally, Christy Lewis (brother of light heavyweight champ John Henry Lewis) got me to sign a contract. I wasnt of age, I was 16 years old, and my father signed so that I could fight. Come to find out, that guy had been robbing us and we couldnt break the contract. So I left. (Manager) Allen Moore went back to New Jersey and he took me with him. I was just a four-round fighter at the time, but Mr. Moore was a real nice man, and he thought I had some potential.
And you fought professionally?
Yeah, I fought professionally. I fought four-rounders, six-rounders and I think I may have fought a couple of eight-rounders, but during that time it was nothing like today. Today, you fight four or five fights and they want to throw you in there (against top competition), but during those days, you had to earn everything you got. So I worked in New Jersey with Mr. Moore, but Christy Lewis reported us to the commission and whatever little money I made they would take out Christys part.
What did you do next?
I had a friend down in Houston, Texas, and was there for only about two months before I went to El Paso, where I was introduced to a guy named Pete Mendoza. He told me, You know what well do? Well go into Mexico and fight. So I dont know how many fights I had down there, but I went into Mexico and fought for about two years. Then I got married down there and had our first kid, so my wife decided I didnt need to be fighting anymore, so we stopped and came back home.
Youre still married?
Ive been married over 60 years. Coming up on 63 years.
To the woman you married in Mexico?
Yeah. Why change? All of them have their faults. You might get another thats worse than the one youve got (laughs).
So, what brought you to Modesto?
I had an uncle that lived in Modesto, my mothers oldest brother; he was a third-grade scholar but he played the stock market and did everything. God just gave him a brain that was kinda big, and he advised me. My youngest boy was getting 4.2 (grade-point average) at Hayward High School, then in the 10th grade he started going the other way. And Hayward started changing, so we moved to Ceres and put him in Ceres High and after the first semester he was back up to 4-point-something when he got his cards.
How did you get involved with the Modesto Police Activities League?
Bill Silver and Sam LaCross had a little gym on Fifth Street, so I walked in the door and Sams sitting there and Bill walks up and we start talking. Finally, I got ready to leave and Bill says, You dont recognize me, do you? You used to train me years ago. I trained him in the military. So I got hooked up with them and then, about a year and half later, Steve Day he was the guy who started the boxing program with the Police Department he came over and asked if we wanted to take over his program. So, I took over the program and have been running it ever since. About 22 years now.
What can boxing teach a young person?
It teaches self-confidence. You ought to see these kids when they arrive and when they leave. Its not for every kid. Its a hard sport. Its tough. We take all kinds of kids. I never turn a kid away.
How many kids have you coached over the years?
Oh, I dont know. I have no way of knowing. Ive been doing this since 52. You know, George Foreman used to train in my gym in Hayward in the Boys Club. When he was in the Job Training Corps, he used to come over and hit my bags.
So, why do you do this?
Its my calling. I feel good about it. There are too many crooks out there who are willing to use folks in every fashion.
Do you ever see yourself stopping this work of yours?
Ive been a lot of places and done a lot of things and I just believe that something drives me. When the kids stop listening or start flipping me off, then Ill leave.