Boxing program in Niskayuna helps people with special needs become ‘Undisputed Champions’

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It’s graduation season. Nowhere has there been more poignancy or purpose in pupil achievement than at the Wildwood School in Niskayuna, where many young people can now boast about becoming “undisputed champions.”

For the young people who take part in the Wildwood School’s Innovative Undisputed Champions Program, it helps them begin a lifelong journey that better allows them to explore the limitations of their existence.

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The program has proven to be a developmental godsend for the teens and young adults who are navigating the challenges of autism spectrum disorders, or other neurological impairments.

Students in the program spend time at Schott’s Boxing Gym in Albany, undergoing the same vigorous training exercises that prizefighters endure.

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The program has proven to build self-confidence and self-esteem in the young people. It has taught them the important lesson about fighting through adversity.

Soon after Tom Shreck founded the program about 10 years ago, he says he saw right away it did much more than just meet his expectations.

“It’s blown me away,” Shreck exclaims, “We didn’t know how hard people would be willing to work, we didn’t know how often folks would keep coming back, we didn’t know the support we would get from the administration and parents, but everybody loves it.”

The students have become pugilists with an extraordinary power of persistence. Instead of gearing up to physically fight a human opponent, the teenagers and young adults from the Wildwood School are punching their way toward universal acceptance, determined to dispel stereotypes, and intent on proving to everyone they can achieve and succeed.

“Boxing is great because it is such an analogy for life,” asserts Javy Martinez, a Colonie police officer who coaches the Wildwood students, “When life punches you in the face, you have to punch back. When you deal with adversity in your life, you have to take a big deep breath, relax, and focus on that problem.”

“It made me learn really good,” said Haily Teta, a graduate of the Undisputed Champions Program, “It made me go through a challenging time with Covid and boxing was so fun.”

An exuberant Tristan Fink may have set it best.

“We are undisputed champions,” he proclaimed.

Over the course of the 10-week long program, students will throw more than one thousand punches, none of them actually landing on an opponent, but what the young adults carry with them is the confidence that they now have a fighting chance in life.

Learn about how by watching the video of Dan Levys story.