Over the past 40 years, the boxing program at Elmcor Recreation Center has helped shape the lives of hundreds of kids throughout Queens and the surrounding boroughs. The founder of the boxing program, and former middleweight, Benson has become a legend in New York City.
“Mr. Benson gets a lot of respect from the community,” said Allen Winston, one of Benson’s first fighters. “Everyone knows him – the parents, the teachers, the politicians, even the President.”
Benson started the boxing program at Elmcor in the late ‘60s. It was his passion for the sport and his love of children that motivated him to start the program.
“I wanted to get the kids off the streets, off of drugs, and away from gangs and violence,” said Benson. “This is the result of that.”
Benson took to the streets and walked through some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the area to introduce at-risk kids to his program. Two of his earliest pupils were Winston and Miles Davis – who are now both working as administrators at Elmcor.
“These were two of the baddest guys on the street, and now they’re two of the best guys out there,” said Benson.
Davis calls Benson his “adoptive father” and credits much of his success to him. “He taught us that this is an alternative to the streets and prison,” said Davis.
Mr. Benson has noticed a huge difference in the youth within the community since the development of the boxing program. The kids go to Elmcor directly after school for practice 3-5 days per week, where they train for several hours. “This is a form of discipline, and at the same time we learn how to protect ourselves,” said Davis.
In addition to focusing on boxing, the program’s volunteers keep up with how the kids are doing in school. Administrators check report cards and communicate frequently with parents who have kids involved in the program.
“Boxing can’t take away from studies,” said Davis. “The kids can’t take the program for granted. It’s a privilege.”
Benson is hoping to launch the new pee-wee division of his boxing program in two weeks. It will be geared toward children ages eight and under. Benson would love to expand the boxing program even further, but right now resources are extremely limited. Administrators are looking for sponsors, volunteers and donations to help develop the program. Funds would go to buy more equipment and hire part-time coaches to reach more children.
“We aren’t asking for much,” said Benson. “We just need the support.”
As a member of the Elmcor community board and President of the boxing program, Benson remains heavily involved with the program. He continues to recruit kids in the community and frequently attends practice to help with training. When he’s not in the gym, Benson is in his office making phone calls, coordinating events, and managing volunteers and staff. At the age of 72, Benson is just as dedicated to the program as he was when it was developed over 40 years ago.
The children at Elmcor aren't the only ones who have been influenced by Benson. Benson raised his grandson, Philip Benson Jackson, in South Jamaica, Queens after his mother passed. Benson has been an enormous inspiration for Philip, a middleweight fighter with huge promise in the sport of boxing.
To date, Benson has watched his grandson twice become the New York Golden Gloves Champion and sign with one of the top promoters in the boxing industry. As a professional, Philip has had just one loss in the ring.
There is no doubt that Lou Benson has had – and continues to have – a huge impact on youth in the community. Perhaps the most passionate of his pupils is Gerald Smith, who was working as a security guard at the Golden Gloves that night.
Smith claims the boxing program at Elmcor saved his life. “I was an alcoholic, and Mr. Benson took me off the streets and gave me a chance. Now I have a family – two kids and grandkids,” said Smith. “Mr. Benson is a beautiful man. I owe him my life. We all do."