South Carolina after-school program trains Olympic hopefuls, in the ring and the classroom

GREENVILLE, SC (WHNS/CNN) — It started out as an after-school program. A gym opened its doors to young people in hopes of keeping them out of trouble.

Now, two teens are poised to compete for Olympic gold, thanks to the Greenville Boxing Club.

At the Greenville Boxing Club, the ground floor is where the fights and workouts happen.

But downstairs, something much different is happening. Homework.

And here, it always comes first.

“They do homework first, even if they don’t have no homework we make them go downstairs and practice reading for 30 minutes,” Shakir Robinson, Personal Fitness Trainer, Greenville Boxing Club said.

Shakir Robinson started the now-flourishing program with the help of his mother, a former school board member.

Combining the physical, and the mental is what Robinson is using to groom two of his best student athletes.

Khalid Johnson is only 14 years old, but he’s training to be an Olympian.

So is 14-year-old Ernie Cuevas, who says the program is the driving force behind achieving his Olympic dreams when Tokyo hosts the games.

“It’s helped me discipline myself a lot so I can control myself in my school environment,” Ernie said.

Together, Khalid and Ernie duke it out in the ring, and in the classroom.

For Khalid, the program’s done wonders for him in his hardest subject, by teaching him discipline and focus.

“I didn’t like science, but I like it now, more than I used to,” Khalid said. “The program has helped me focus in the classroom.”

And Ernie says his dreams of gold are being nurtured by none other than the great Lamar “Kidfire” Parks.

The former number one middleweight champion in the world who lives in Greenville.

Ernie’s even adopted Parks’ nickname.

“I’m Ernie ‘Lil Kidfire’ Cuevas…” Ernie said.

It’s a nickname Ernie hopes earns him international acclaim.

But both he and Khalid know their roots.

“This is where we grew up and this is where we fought and when you get up there you gotta do your best,” Ernie said.

And they know it’s excellence in the ring, and in the classroom, that will get them to Tokyo.

“You gotta be on your A-game,” Ernie said.

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