Andre Berto got his start in a Police Athletic League program, and now about 50 South Florida kids will get acquainted with amateur boxing through USA Boxing’s Gloves Not Guns program.
The program kicked off in Florida at the Deerfield Beach PAL center May 28.
Berto (25-0), who unanimously defeated Juan Urango on May 30 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino near Hollywood to retain his welterweight title, was on hand for the Gloves Not Guns debut.
He said he knows all too well how violence can ruin lives.
“I grew up in a crazy neighborhood, a crazy environment, had a lot of friends going to jail,’’ said Berto, 25, who has lived in Winter Haven and Miami. “A lot of things happened, but I wanted to go the other route, be that example that you don’t have to do the street thing. You can find someplace else to go to.’’
Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti agreed. “It’s not about teaching kids how to fight,’’ Lamberti said. “It’s about teaching them how to get along. They’ll learn how to fight on their own.’’
The program, which aims to move at-risk teens from the streets to the gym, includes clinics, certified instructors and tips on making positive choices in a society riddled with gangs and violence.
“Here in Broward County we do have an emerging gang problem. We have identified over 80 gangs with over 1,000 members,’’ Lamberti said. “Kids have gotten killed in school because someone brought a gun to school. We learn about a 16-year-old kid on the street, because of some rivalry, got shot and killed. I’ve said it dozens of times before: We cannot arrest our way out of this problem. We need to give kids an alternative.’’
Deerfield Beach Mayor Peggy Noland is a former PAL participant.
“I used to go bowling on Saturdays with PAL,’’ which has been around since 1914 to build bridges between law enforcement and kids, Noland said. “It’s important that we put our time and energy into our children. This is our investment and this is our future. We started with six kids; now we have 50. We’re looking for a bigger room now.’’
Although many programs are faced with shrinking budgets, Lamberti said, “We have to do more with less. … Gloves Not Guns will make a real difference.’’
It already made a difference just by having HBO Sports’ ringside commentator Max Kellerman, Berto and a few instructors present at the program’s Florida debut to give kids – who were sporting Gloves Not Guns T-Shirts – advice on their stances, jabs and fades.
Jake Grossman, 13, of Fort Lauderdale, winner of the state Junior Olympics in April, managed to impress Kellerman and Berto with his power punches.
“It’s cool that people know I’m in boxing and know who I am,’’ Grossman said.
Berto says he always had a vision that he could do great things.
“I’m just trying to go the right route and do the right thing,’’ he said. “If it rubs off on a few of these kids then I guess I am considered a role model.’’
For Clarence Autley, 17, of Coral Springs, the Deerfield Beach PAL center has been his hangout for about four months.
“He’s a real cool dude,’’ Autley said of Berto, who watched as Autley threw a few mean uppercuts. “As long as we set our goals we can reach them.’’
Two days later at the Hard Rock, Berto retained his World Boxing Council welterweight title with a unanimous decision over Urango, of Colombia.
The undefeated Berto's quickness frustrated Urango throughout their bout at the Hard Rock Live Arena.
Preferring to keep his distance, Berto landed repeatedly with lead left jabs to the head, and also was effective with rights to the head.
Urango continued to pursue Berto, but only found quick lefts and rights to the head for his strategy.
Berto won on two judges' scorecards 118-110 and 117-111 on the third.
In the fourth round, Urango finally pinned Berto and enjoyed one of his best rounds, landing lefts to the head and body. Berto also countered with rights to the head.
Berto didn't allow Urango the space for infighting situations in the middle rounds as he connected repeatedly with right uppercuts and lefts to the head. Berto also was effective at landing a lead right, immediately clinching Urango and avoiding any possible counter shots.
The crowd became bored with an action-lacking ninth, booing during what appeared a round in which Berto reduced his punch volume while Urango (21-2) kept chasing the defensive-minded champion.
Berto picked up the pace in the final three rounds and again landed lead rights to the head.
Although he moved up to the 147-pound welterweight class, Urango retains the International Boxing Federation junior-welterweight title he won Jan. 30.
Berto weighed 145 pounds for Saturday's bout, one less than Urango.
In another bout, former IBF welterweight champion Kermit Cintron ended Alfredo Angulo's unbeaten record with a convincing unanimous decision.
Cintron (30-2-1) scored with lead left jabs, keeping Angulo at a distance for most of their 12-round junior-middleweight bout. Using his quickness, Cintron also outpointed the pressure-minded Angulo (15-1) with rights to the head.
All three judges scored the bout for Cintron 116-112. There were no knockdowns.
Cintron and Angulo both weighed 153 pounds.
Photo: Andre Berto, left, and Juan Urango, right.