BHS students build strength, community in new Boxing Club
Emma Ganion is always thinking about ways she can help her students be successful.
So earlier this year, Ganion, a Special Education Resource Teacher at Burnsville High School, started talking to students about an activity that she’s found beneficial for herself - boxing.
Ganion joined a boxing gym in St. Paul last summer as a way to stay active and try something new. She’s been happy not only to see her skills improve but to be surrounded by a supportive community at her gym. That got her thinking about how boxing could be advantageous for some of her students at BHS, as well. A few students were interested in the idea from the start and that quickly grew to 35 students who are now regularly participating in the new Boxing Club at BHS.
“I knew there were about 5-10 students interested, so I was expecting a small group. Once I put up a few flyers around the school, the sign-ups came pouring in. I was planning to lead the first session by myself, but I asked one of my teammates, Asiya Mohammed, to come help me after I checked the sign up again and realized that I might have 30-plus students,” Ganion said. “Asiya recruited another one of our teammates, Zach O'Connor. Asiya and Zach had so much fun with the students at that first session that they agreed to stick around as weekly volunteers. Emily Ansell, another teacher at BHS, also came on board to help me with the club.”
After some weather delays, the group met for the first time at BHS in early March. It’s now meeting weekly at nearby CMB Boxing Gym. Earlier this year, Ganion reached out to boxer Leo Medel, who runs CMB, and he agreed to help coach the club, as well.
“When I started this gym, this is the kind of thing we wanted to do to help the community. Kids from all different backgrounds can come together as a team here and that’s going to help them in life,” Medel said. “This is what we love to do. This is a great opportunity for the kids to learn, work hard, train, and reach their goals.”
Ganion also received support to the tune of nearly $1,000 in donations that she used to buy gloves and hand wraps for all the students in the club. The activity fee to join the club is $10, but scholarships are also available.
“The response now is just as enthusiastic. I have students come by my room every week and ask me for a permission form to join the club,” Ganion said. “We added a second session each week, and we are already talking about plans to continue over the summer if possible.”
Ganion is excited for her students to experience not just the physical but the mental benefits of boxing.
“There are so many physical benefits to boxing, but it is also amazing for the brain. It requires enough focus that your brain locks in but not so much that it's mentally taxing. You have to think quickly and adjust to your opponent without sacrificing your own technique,” she said. “There is a lot of discipline involved. My students can come to boxing and use their brain in a totally different way than they do at school.”
Ganion said boxing is also a great outlet for stress, which makes it beneficial for her students who struggle with emotional and behavioral regulation.
“There are the endorphins that come with any kind of exercise, but there's an extra rush that comes with throwing punches… Boxing Club has been a great opportunity to show them that there is an environment in which they can get out any frustration and stress,” she said. “I've read some interesting studies about how exercise can help with emotional regulation, and I love being able to offer students a chance to try a new activity that can help them in so many ways.”
Sophomore Israel Ontiveros describes himself as a self-taught boxer. He’s been training for a few years and was excited for the opportunity to join the club and participate in his favorite activity with his classmates.
“I saw the flyers and posters and went to see what it was all about. It’s been a really cool opportunity,” he said. “I’ve been interested in boxing since I was little and would like to turn it into a full-time career, so this is a good start.”
Ontiveros got to spar in the ring for the first time on April 13. During the three-round session, Ontiveros and his opponent were cheered on by their teammates and coaches, as well as Burnsville High School Student Resource Officer Javier Jimenez, a boxer himself and family friend to Ontiveros, who invited him to attend.
“As SROs, we’re always trying to bridge that gap between the students and the community so to be invited to be here means a great deal to me,” Jimenez said. “Israel is a great kid and I appreciate the opportunity to watch him spar.”
Students are already taking ownership of the club, making plans to form a board and establish roles like event coordinator and social media coordinator. One student already started a TikTok account for the club with the description: “We don’t fight for fun or to hurt people. We fight to learn and grow as a family.”
“They’re really leaning into the community aspect of boxing, which is amazing to see,” Ganion said.