by Michelle Leach

Omaha and B&B Sports Academy have been a winning combination for six years. Led by Omaha’s own Terence “Bud” Crawford and Brian “BoMac” McIntyre, the “B&B” duo’s gym has been churning out exceptional local, regional and national youth boxers. Yet, the Academy’s focus on instilling life skills among its young members outside of the ring doesn’t take a distant second-place to the in-ring skills instilled by world-champion boxers like Crawford, and its array of professional and experienced coaches, trainers, mentors and volunteers.

“Since the doors first opened, it has been a magnet for neighborhood youth and the number of kids we’re reaching continues to grow,” said B&B Sports Academy Board President Jamie Nollette.

“In the last couple of years, thanks to many generous donors, the gym has undergone significant renovations that help us serve more young people.”

The likes of annual “fight nights” featuring local celebrities have gone on to benefit the community-based athletic center’s structured activities for 8- to 18-year-old youth. Reportedly, around $250,000 went toward transforming the gym from a boarded, bricked-up and worn former garage and storage facility into a nearly unrecognizable modern and airy space for its free fitness and boxing programs.

As the Academy celebrated its sixth anniversary last month in an improved space, members are celebrating their own victories since the gym first opened in the North Omaha neighborhood that Crawford and McIntyre called “home” as children, at 31st and Sprague streets.

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“Our coaches are all volunteers,” said B&B Board Member Kristi Andersen. “Their reward is the transformation they see take place in the kids who come to B&B.” The gym, she said, is truly a sanctuary for some of our kids – a safe place.

“If they have problems at home and need love and support, our coaches are here for them,” Andersen said.

Ary said training at the gym helped him lose weight. Haley credits her newfound self-esteem to the communal support from the trainers. Treven is a promising amateur lightweight.

Despite personal and organization-wide victories, the Academy isn’t resting on its laurels.

“As B&B expands, we’re hoping to offer tutoring and academic support in addition to more training in sports other than boxing,” Nollette said. “We hope our community will help us reach our goals through more … corporate partnerships.”

Leadership emphasized such support is vital, given that – unlike other sports academies – B&B’s services are offered free of charge. Young members put in sweat and study equity; for instance, they’re required to behave positively and maintain their grades. Report cards and progress reports are provided, so the Academy’s staff can better understand how to help and mentor each kid, and to determine their needs (volunteer tutors are available to assist as needed).

“We believe Omaha is a better place when opportunities are available to all children,” Andersen said.

The world welterweight boxing champion himself has helped to put Omaha in the spotlight by defending his title before a crowd of more than 11,000 people at then-CenturyLink Center. Between his own fights, Crawford continues to shine a light on local youth. Even as a homegrown celebrity, he still provides hands-on instruction and coaching to members.

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According to the nonprofit, the founders’ personal and professional “ceiling” wasn’t making it to the top of their sport; it was to open a youth gym in their old stomping grounds. So, the athletes they train today will go on to run B&B in the future, producing champions inside and outside of the ring.

Andersen and Nollette encourage the community to visit www.bandbacademy.org to find out more about the gym, its importance to our youth and how they can support the growth of B&B’s mission.

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