Give Kids a Fightin' Chance; Boxing matches to raise money to help youths.
WORCESTER - One is the first and only female firefighter in Hudson. The other is the first female Worcester police officer to lace up the gloves for charity.
Neither wants to be the first to go down as they battle it out during the eighth annual Give Kids A Fightin' Chance boxing charity event run by the Worcester Police Department's Gang Unit.
Judy Rice, a 34-year-old mother of two who wears Hudson's Fire Department uniform proudly, knows the event is all about the children at the Boys & Girls Club of Worcester. But she made it clear: She doesn't plan on getting her butt kicked when she steps into the ring May 6 at the Palladium, 261 Main St.
"Losing is not an option for me," Firefighter Rice said. Her rival, Worcester Police Officer Jessica L. Cortes, has no interest in losing, either.
Both women have been training hard for the event, but each admitted she knows little about the other. Officer Cortes said her trainers over at the Boys & Girls Club tried to do a little spying, but didn't come up with any information on Firefighter Rice.
The officer said there is always a rivalry between police and firefighters.
"There is a lot of pressure to step up and do a good job, especially being from the hometown," said Officer Cortes, 30.
In 2001, members of the Gang Unit started the Worcester Police Gang Unit Boxing program to give officers a chance to interact with city youths, some of whom were at risk of joining the gang lifestyle.
Two years later, the unit had the first Give Kids A Fightin' Chance. Since the first event in 2003, the Gang Unit has raised more than $500,000, which helps buy the Boys & Girls Club of Worcester equipment for athletic programs, arts and crafts.
This year the Boys & Girls Club's transportation van broke down, and it has already received a new van because of the money raised by the charity boxing event.
"I think it is still the biggest night in Worcester," Gang Unit Officer Nathan Reando said.
Last year the event did not sell out and Officer Reando is hoping all of the tickets are bought for this May's event. Some money from the operational costs to promote the event went to buying advertising space on a billboard on Interstate 290 in Worcester.
Nineteen fights are scheduled this year and many of the boxers have been training hard, several at Kendrick Ball's Camp Get Right in the city or at the Boys & Girls Club.
Several organizations have fighters lacing up the gloves, including area bars, auto dealerships and colleges.
Both Firefighter Rice and Officer Cortes got involved in the fights after friends or family either fought or showed an interest in participating in the event.
Used to carrying heavy equipment, Firefighter Rice has been training for three months.
She is used to training. A former aerobics teacher, she also has run a half marathon.
Officer Cortes works in the Police Department's Training Division, training new recruits.
Boxing used to be a part of the department's academy, but isn't any more.
"It does so much for you. I consider myself a tiny, petite person and I am getting muscle during my training," she said. "It is a very addicting sport. It is all whatever you put into it."
Both pugilists believe they will put up a good fight, but have no idea what their opponent will bring.
"I am going into it blind," Officer Cortes said of knowing her opponent.
"I know nothing about her. I don't know what she looks like," Firefighter Rice said.
The two women know in the end that no matter who wins, the children are the real winners.
They are giving their time to train for the inner city youth, they said.
"I certainly don't want to let Hudson down, but it is all about the kids," Firefighter Rice said. "This is a way for me to give back, to help them build a better life."
Tickets for the May 6 event are available through the Palladium, 261 Main St., Worcester. Prices are $25 for general admission and $40 for reserved ringside seats.
Anyone interested in buying tickets can call the Palladium at (508) 797-9696. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and fights start at 7. Tickets are available at the door.
More information about the charity is available at www.givekidsafightingchance.org.
CUTLINE: (1) Worcester Police Officer Jessica L. Cortes trains at the Boys & Girls Club of Worcester for the Give Kids a Fighting Chance boxing match. (2) Hudson Firefighter Judy Rice trains Saturday at the Hudson Police Association Boxing Club in Hudson.
PHOTOG: (1) T&G Staff/TOM RETTIG (2) T&G Staff/RICK CINCLAIR