Monday Q&A: Modesto PAL boxing program helps kids keep their eyes on the prize

jcortez@modbee.comJune 22, 2014 

    alternate text Joe Cortez
    Title: Prep sports writer
    Coverage areas: High school sports
    Bio: Joe started at The Bee in 2000, where he worked on the Sports and Features desks. He was named prep editor in July, 2013. Joe attended Merced High and Merced College, and was the lead high school sports reporter at the Merced Sun-Star beginning in 1990. His favorite athletes are Babe Ruth, Joe Namath and Walt Frazier.
    Recent stories written by Joe
    On Twitter: @ModBeePreps

It’s 4 p.m. on a sizzling Monday afternoon in the Central Valley, a few weeks away from the official start of summer. At least, that’s what the calendar indicates. The thermometer has run out of patience and is already acting like it’s August.

Temperatures are well into triple digits and there’s not much relief inside the Maddux Youth Center on Modesto’s 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 League’s 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 doesn’t 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. “He’s what holds the boxing program together … and he’s 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, you’re a man of action, aren’t you?

Let’s do things. Don’t sit on your butt if you’ve 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, I’m gonna take this strap and tear you up.” Then he said, “I want to tell you another thing: I don’t ever want to hear of you hating anybody. You fight anybody but don’t hate anybody.”

So hate has never come into me. I don’t care who you are or what you do or what color you are, there’s no hate in me for anybody.

Your father was a big influence on you, wasn’t 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.

How’d 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.

What’s a smoker?

It’s when you’d box in bars. It’s 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 don’t know him.”

Finally, Christy Lewis (brother of light heavyweight champ John Henry Lewis) got me to sign a contract. I wasn’t 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 couldn’t 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 Christy’s 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 we’ll do? We’ll go into Mexico and fight.” So I don’t 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 didn’t need to be fighting anymore, so we stopped and came back home.

You’re still married?

I’ve 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 that’s worse than the one you’ve got (laughs).

So, what brought you to Modesto?

I had an uncle that lived in Modesto, my mother’s 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 Sam’s sitting there and Bill walks up and we start talking. Finally, I got ready to leave and Bill says, “You don’t 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. … It’s not for every kid. It’s a hard sport. It’s tough. We take all kinds of kids. I never turn a kid away.

How many kids have you coached over the years?

Oh, I don’t know. I have no way of knowing. I’ve 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?

It’s 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?

I’ve 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 I’ll leave.

Bee staff writer Joe Cortez can be reached at or (209) 578-2380. Follow him on Twitter @ModBeePreps

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