CLEVELAND — The City of Cleveland is investing more than $15 million this year to run its Division of Recreation. That budget was increased by nearly $1.4 million from 2021. The money includes the upkeep of 21 rec centers, an arts center, 32 pools, two football complexes, and a baseball complex.
That investment is not just another line item in the budget, but a critical lifeline, since all those activities help to keep kids busy and off the streets.
There are hundreds of other private nonprofits with the same mission, like "Beat the Streets Cleveland (B.T.S)," which uses the art of wrestling to help teach kids life lessons, all while creating "A Better Land."
She’s only a few weeks in, but 7-year-old Journey Sims says she enjoys wrestling.
“It’s really fun to see other girls compete. I didn’t ever think that she wanted to wrestle. I see her tussling around with the boys and we would ask her from time to time if she wanted to wrestle," Journey said.
Journey’s father, Brandon, says his daughter was inspired to try wrestling after watching her two older brothers practice their moves at home. Apparently, the apples didn’t fall far from the tree. This dad says he also wrestled during high school.
“It gave me confidence. I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my early years,” says Brandon Sims, her father.
The Sims kids have been developing their wrestling skills with the help of Beat The Streets Cleveland. The family has been part of the program since it was founded here in 2016.
Demetrius Williams, executive director of Beat the Streets Cleveland, says “What separates us from other wrestling programs, we’re very intentional about having conversations with kids. So we don’t just come in here and wrestle. We’ll come in here to get to know the kid. Build a relationship with the kid. We wanna know, alright, how was school today? How’s your grades?”
Williams says wrestling changed his life and he now holds his dream job.
“I had vision impairment. I had a hearing impairment. Because of that hearing impairment, I had a speech impediment. So I lacked confidence. I lacked a lot of...I struggled in a lot of aspects of life. But when I got involved with wrestling, it gave me the confidence,” said Williams.
And now Williams gives back through Beat The Streets, which is a national organization with chapters in 37 cities, serving an estimated 8,400 youth each year.
Kids in K-12 are taught about wrestling and life with the help of coaches and mentors.
The program is free, providing all the gear and even paying the way for students to compete all over the world.
“We want to try to eliminate all the barriers. We want to keep them focused on coming in and getting better,” said Williams.
That’s exactly what 18-year-old Nick Abounader did.
He wrestles for his high school, but in the off-season, comes to B.T.S. to strengthen his skills.
“It got me into college. It got me a scholarship to college,” said Abounader.
“You’re more likely to become an entrepreneur or a doctor or a business owner, versus being a national champion or a world champion. So our goal is to create quality young men and young women of the future," said Williams.
It was easy to see, that these students are already setting their sights high.
“I learned a lot of techniques and a lot of moves. Stuff I can use if I ever go the Olympics!" Journey said.
Beat The Streets Cleveland runs year-round and is now preparing for its summer program, where practices will be held in at least 10 different locations across Greater Cleveland.
To learn more about Beat The Streets Cleveland, click here.
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This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.