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Fri, Dec 13, 2013
Milwaukee boxing coach inspires kids
By David Marcus
MILWAUKEE - The blows strike fast and furious on Milwaukee's south side. And the man affectionately known as 'Shorty' is the one who gives United Community Center Boxing Club its punch. "I tell the kids all the time, don't forget where you come from," said Coach Israel Acosta. "I've never seen a bad neighborhood. That's what I feel. Everybody comes from a good place." Kids have been finding Coach Acosta's boxing club for 33 years. They start as young as seven-years-old, all the way up to 18. "I tell the parents, this is your kid!" he said. "But when they come in that door and that door, they're my kid! I do what I want to do with my kid!" But it's one of his biggest life disappointments that continues to fuel Acosta every single day. After emigrating from Puerto Rico to train in 1972, he qualified for the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team in 1980. But when Team USA boycotted the Olympic Games in Moscow, Acosta lost his only chance at Olympic Gold. "Jimmy Carter put politics with sports, that's the wrong thing he did, to put politics with sports," Acosta said. "I never won a gold medal, but this is my gold medal, the kids. That's better than any gold medal." A wall at the gym is a testament to Coach Acosta's legacy. He's trained hundreds of fighters over the years, most of whom think of him as much more than a boxing coach and this place as much more than a boxing gym. "Shorty has seen me grow up," said Luis Arias, 16, boxer. "Every time I have a problem in my school, every time there's anything, Shorty's one of the first people I talk to, no matter what it's about. Sometimes it's not even boxing. He's like a dad, he's like a second dad to me." Arias is one of Israel Acosta's rising stars. He's trained at UCC since he was 7, and has risen to become Junior Olympic National Champion. Seventeen-year-old Andre Sherard grew up with Arias and just won the under-19 National Championships in Kansas City. "Shorty always makes sure we stay out of trouble," Sherard said. "We crack jokes all the time. Me and Luis, we've been friends all our lives, that's pretty much it. We're sparring partners, we go to every tournament together, so everything's been working out well." Luis and Andre both have visions of Olympic glory, much like their coach once had. But even if they never strike gold, Coach Acosta's left behind something more valuable for them, and for the kids to follow. "This is home," Arias said. "This is really home. You can find anybody here. There's funny people, there's smart people. There's everybody! There's just new friends, we're all friendly. Nobody hates anybody. It's all love around here. It's just a place of learning, it's a place to have fun and be together."