ANTIOCH -- Growing up in East Contra Costa, Daniel Castillo and Michael Alexander found in boxing an escape from some of life's tougher blows. Now, the professional fighters are trying to offer the same opportunities for others in a region where after-school activities struggle to keep pace with the rising youth population.
The pair recently opened Double Trouble Boxing in a refurbished building in an older area of Antioch. Their goal is not just to perhaps find the next Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather or Andre Ward but to keep youngsters out of trouble and moving in the right direction.
"We see this as an outlet where kids can let their aggression out in a positive way," said Castillo, 33, of Pittsburg. "Our goal is to build those relationships so they feel they belong to something."
Alexander, 35, of Antioch, added: "We try to teach them that discipline is needed in life. There are no shortcuts in boxing, and there are no shortcuts in life."
The opening comes as East Contra Costa has seen an increase in youth crime, arrests and gang activity in recent years, while youth resource centers in the region are closing their doors or reducing services. Theirs is the first boxing gym many longtime residents can recall in Antioch, a city of 106,000 people.
Providing a haven from the streets for kids in their hometown is important for Castillo and Alexander, both of whom have seen friends make poor choices by succumbing to drugs and gang violence or partying away their potential.
"There's been a lot of wasted talent," Castillo said.
Angel Muno, 15, wandered into Double Trouble a couple of months ago when his uncle pointed it out to him.
"I like aggressive sports, so I thought I'd check it out," Angel said.
Before taking up boxing, the Deer Valley High School sophomore said, he would just be at home after school or probably out somewhere "being a little knucklehead."
Boxing can also help those who are being bullied in school, because they "walk with their shoulders back and head held high," Castillo said.
For Robert Ribeiro, Double Trouble has helped his 6-year-old son, Bobby, who has a mild form of autism, become more outgoing and make friends.
Bobby needs activities where he is on his own, rather than team sports, his father said.
"What these guys are trying to do here is great. A lot of kids can use it," Ribeiro said.
Double Trouble's owners come from backgrounds similar to those of some of the boys and girls they train.
Alexander, a 1997 Antioch High graduate, says he grew up in a single-parent home and often found himself getting into fights and trouble. Boxing became a channel for that aggression, and he stuck with it through the U.S. Marine Corps.
Castillo, a 1999 Pittsburg High graduate, said he started boxing at age 21 as a way to lose weight but had to drive to Novato to find the nearest gym.
One reason he strives to keep Double Trouble affordable is memories from his own upbringing. He and his twin brother shared everything, including clothes, and "had holes in our shoes," he said.
Castillo said they purposely set Double Trouble's monthly rates lower than many other gyms in the East Bay: $80 for technical training, $50 for classes for kids ages 4 to 12 and $10 for walk-ins. They also provide a "scholarship-to-work" program, which basically means those who can't afford the cost make it up by cleaning the gym.
The gym currently has 35 members and draws a few walk-ups each week.
Additionally, both men say they are licensed by USA Boxing, the governing body for amateur boxing in the United States. Or as Castillo said, "We're not just trying to teach something we saw on YouTube."
Both continue to box professionally and work at other jobs. There are countless stories of impressionable young men finding in boxing an escape from the lure of the streets, but as the sport's popularity has waned in recent years, so have opportunities to learn the sweet science. Boxing gyms are fairly scant in Contra Costa County, Castillo said.
Longtime residents say there used to be boxing at the East County Boys and Girls Club when it was in downtown Pittsburg and Lee's Gym in Concord, but none can recall a gym in Antioch. Most local youngsters tend to play football, basketball and baseball, or participate in martial arts-based training classes.
But the pair has built a following over the past few years, starting with classes at LA Boxing in Brentwood before borrowing space from a downtown Antioch jiu-jitsu studio. They rented the A Street spot for about a year before purchasing it outright in January.
Their tutelage extends beyond the ring. A group from Double Trouble participated in the citywide Keep Antioch Beautiful event April 27, picking up trash near City Hall. They also donated a month's worth of classes to raffle off at a fundraiser for local women's shelter Shepherd's Gate.
"For us, this is home," Castillo said.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.