Landon Hamilton took turns punching everything he could.
The 7-year-old St. Augustine resident was among the dozens of people who were in Hastings on Tuesday night to participate in an open house for the St. Johns Police Athletic League’s boxing program.
PAL boxing begins on Oct. 5 at the Harris Community Center. St. Johns PAL Executive Director Sgt. Sheldon York said his organization is hoping 100 children — between 7 and 18 — participate in the program.
Landon’s mom, Kelly Hamilton, signed him up on Tuesday night. As her son was given a quick instruction on how to turn his arm when punching, Hamilton stood back and smiled.
“They are excited to have a sport where they can be a part of the community,” Hamilton said. “After (COVID-19) kids are not getting as much exercise.”
That will not be an issue for Landon. He wore a big smile as he walked around the 144-square-foot ring and tried the equipment that was either donated or custom-made for the Police Athletic League.
“I hurt my knuckles a little bit,” Landon said with a smile, “but, I didn’t care.”
The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, Putnam County Sheriff’s Office and Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office all sponsor boxing within their Police Athletic Leagues.
The pandemic afforded the St. Johns Sheriff’s Office time to devise a program, identify and certify instructors and work with St. Johns County Parks and Recreation to find a facility where it could introduce boxing.
“When we found out there was a need and a want for boxing, we decided to do the research,” York said. “We reached out to try to find a location. Parks and Recreation steered us toward Hastings. We felt it was an area that was underserved and we thought it would be a great idea to come out here.”
Hundreds of staff and volunteer hours went into everything from renovating the rooms where the ring is located to painting the walls.
The pandemic pause meant some on the St. Johns PAL staff did not have Golden Gloves experience or participate in another amateur boxing program had time to earn teaching certifications from USA Boxing.
St. Augustine-based Rankine Manufacturing made the 12-by-12 ring that stands at the center of the new PAL boxing facility.
Rankine Manufacturing owner Bryan Hinman has dedicated his time and talent to assist or coach youth sports in St. Johns County for years. He prefers to be behind the scenes, but York and others who gathered on Tuesday made sure to highlight Hinman for the custom-made boxing ring.
Long before he was selected as Chief of Police for the St. Augustine Beach Police Department and decades before he became a politician, Rob Hardwick was a PAL coach. He coached football and was a member of St. Johns PAL’s Board of Directors when it introduced lacrosse.
“This is a program I saw over in Putnam County and I saw how successful it was,” Hardwick said of PAL boxing. “I have a boxer in my agency, (Sgt.) Krissie Padgett. She fights at Guns & Hoses every year, so I saw the importance of what this sport does, and can do for a community. It’s all about putting the program in the right place, having the right staff in place and having the community buy into the program.”
So, I support this 110 percent. I think it’s great. I think it’s in the perfect community here in Hastings. We want to emulate this exact program in West Augustine.”
For now, Monday and Wednesday nights in Hastings will be devoted to boxing.
“One of the biggest parts of boxing for a kid is discipline,” Padgett said. “They learn so much about self-esteem, self-worth and (the fact) they can do it.”