128-year-old Kansas City church becomes boxing gym

**Embargo: Kansas City, KS-MO** A 128-year-old church in KCK that sat vacant for more than two decades is being resurrected as a boxing gym. In every way, the building at 5th

A 128-year-old church in KCK that sat vacant for more than two decades is being resurrected as a boxing gym.

In every way, the building at 5th and Ann looks like a church. In many ways, the purpose will be the same: inspiration, guidance and community. Except that now it will be in a boxing ring.

The KCKPD has wanted a Police Athletic League (PAL) program for years but didn’t have all the pieces until a retired Kansas City, Missouri cop who grew up around the corner from St. Mary’s said, “I know a place.”

Matt Tomasic had been an altar boy there.

“Somebody’s going to mentor our kids,” he said. “It can be us or it can be gang members.”

Tomasic knew Lalo Robles from the neighborhood. Robles competed in fights featured on HBO and Showtime, then retired to coach kids for Golden and Silver Gloves

“We wanted to reach out to the kids that need the help,” Robles said.

In his youth, it was a priest at a neighboring church who kept him out of trouble. However, the church also played a role.

“When it was open before, that’s where I used to do my community service hours feeding the homeless,” said Robles, who is a PAL boxing coach.

Officer Rodney Ashley put his hat in the ring to be one of two full-time PAL officers doing a little boxing, a lot of mentoring, and a bit of imagining.

“You could consider me the 6th grade level and Lalo is going to be around the varsity level,” Ashley said.

“Ten, 15 years later I run into the same kid that I taught in one of these classes and we start reminiscing about it and they tell me about the positive interaction,” Ashley said.

Sure, there will be fighting. However, it’s in the name of fellowship.

Tomasic is PAL KCK’s Executive Director. He said, “It’s going to be a place of refuge for people. Where we will build relationships, we will build community, we will reduce crime, we will keep kids out of prison.”

Tomasic’s years as a Kansas City, Missouri cop assigned to a community center taught him those one-on-one relationships are, in his words, “The only way to get things turned around.” You can call him a “softie” if you want, but he said, “That’s how I see it. And, you know, we have built enough prisons.”

The gym opens on Monday at 5:30 p.m.

A parent will need to sign a waiver first. So, come with your child if you want them to get started right away.

For more information about PAL KCK, click here.

They plan to expand beyond boxing over time and include a community garden, archery, and more.

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