Jesus “Rocky” Gomez was fighting his heart out in the ring. But for every punch the 10-year-old threw, he got back three in the face. “C’mon, Rocky! Throw more punches!” screamed the crowd in the gym bleachers at Wilson Middle School in Glendale. Rocky heard the chants – all from the mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers of young Hispanic boys in the Glendale Police Activities League after-school program, known as PAL. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE‘Mame,’ ‘Hello, Dolly!’ composer Jerry Herman dies at 88 Rocky tried harder. But he was still catching more leather than he was giving. Finally, midway through the second round, the referee stepped in to stop the fight. Rocky Gomez had a bloody nose – and Lenny Chavez, an 11-year-old from East Los Angeles, had a win. From his ringside seat, Jesus Gomez Sr. rushed to his son’s side. Rocky didn’t cry, didn’t say anything. He just buried his face deep into his father’s chest for a few seconds, then looked up at him with questioning eyes: Was he mad? Did he let his father down? Did he let down all the other kids in his PAL club? Jesus Sr. smiled at his son. Then he gave him a big hug while the other boys in PAL gathered around Rocky. “Good try, Rocky. Next time,” they said, patting him on the back as he walked back to the dressing room with his dad. Standing a few feet away, Glendale Police Department Sgt. Oscar Rodriguez smiled. He knew you can learn as much from losing as you can from winning – and it was his job to teach the boys in his PAL club one of life’s hard lessons. There’s always a next time, and you either learn from your losses or you keep on losing. “I’ve talked to all the boys about what it takes to be a winner in life – commitment, sacrifice and dedication,” Rodriguez said. “If you lose, you have to rebound and do better next time. You have to overcome the obstacles no matter who or what your opponent is. “That’s what makes a champion – not only in boxing, but in life.” When the 16-year veteran police officer opened the PAL workout room at Wilson the next afternoon, the first kid who walked through the door was 71-pound Rocky Gomez. Getting ready for next time. The boys in this after-school PAL program live on some of the poorest, gang-ridden, graffiti-covered streets in southeast Glendale, Rodriguez says. None poorer or tougher, though, than David Kamau’s neighborhood in Kenya. Kamau drives a city bus in Glendale now, but back in the early ’90s he was a leading lightweight fighter climbing into the ring against the likes of world champs Julio Cesar Chavez and Oscar de la Hoya. When he heard that Rodriguez was trying to restart the Glendale Police Department’s PAL program after it shut down in 2002, he asked the police officer if he needed help. Kamau and volunteer Clemente Medina have become right-hand men to Rodriguez, giving the 40 or so kids who come to this workout room four days a week a reality lesson on the facts of life. No matter how tough they think they have it, there’s always someone who has it tougher – and has worked harder to overcome obstacles. “Growing up in Kenya, we didn’t know where our next meal was coming from, or even if there would be a next meal,” Kamau tells the boys. “You’re living in America. You have everything. A good life is out there waiting for you, but you have to earn it. Nobody’s going to give it to you.” Commitment, sacrifice and dedication. The DNA of champions. In a boxing ring or in life. So, in PAL programs throughout this city, hundreds of kids living on some pretty mean streets are trying to earn a better future. Their parents, couples like Jesus and Delicia Gomez, know exactly where their sons would be headed after school if so many dedicated police officers and volunteers didn’t offer them a chance to become champions. They’d be walking the streets where trouble is never hard to find. Rocky’s parents only know a few words of English, so they sent a friend over to talk to me after the fight. They wanted me to know how proud they were of their son. Rocky didn’t lose that fight. Not in their hearts. The day their 10-year-old came home from Horace Mann Elementary School and told them he wanted to join the Glendale Police Department PAL program, he became a winner in their eyes. And no bloody nose was going to change that. Dennis McCarthy’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Dennis McCarthy, (818) 713-3749 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!