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Action from Beats the Streets Chicago’s recent open house at its facility near Archer and Central. --Photos by Cosmo Hadac

Action from Beats the Streets Chicago’s recent open house at its facility near Archer and Central. --Photos by Cosmo Hadac

The mat is where it’s at

Beat the Streets using wrestling to change kids’ lives

By Tim Hadac

For Southwest Side boys and girls, the building at 5985 S. Archer should be considered a safe space, Mike Powell says.

But don’t expect to be comfortable.

For the last three years, Powell has served as chief executive officer of Beat the Streets Chicago, a non-profit that gets youngsters out of the comfort zone and into positive lifestyle via the sport of wrestling.

CRRNH BTS01 080421

Action from Beats the Streets Chicago’s recent open house at its facility near Archer and Central. –Photos by Cosmo Hadac

“We believe wrestling is the single greatest vehicle for self-improvement in the world,” Powell said, speaking for himself, his staff and his board of directors. “There’s no other sport that teaches the lessons wrestling does. Wrestling always tells you the truth about what you’re doing and how you’ve been doing it.”

Powell should know.

A champion wrestler at Oak Park-River Forest High School and Indiana University—and then a championship coach at OPRF for a dozen years—he says, “Every good thing that’s ever come my way as an adult is because of my time in wrestling.

“Learning delayed gratification, goal setting, discipline, hard work, self-reflection, the ability to control what you can, to be honest with yourself—I applied all those things to my professional life, my coaching life,” he continued. “Wrestling offers a great opportunity to grow personally.”

Beat the Streets Chicago is housed in a building that until recent years was home to a health club. Powell says the facility is perfect, from the large open space to the locker rooms to the spacious parking lot. Beat the Streets moved in last spring.CRRNH BTS02 080421

Beat the Streets accepts children as young as 5 years old.

Their ranks have been dented by the pandemic. There are currently about 425 kids who are card-carrying members—children from across the Southwest Side, as well as from other parts of the city and suburbs. Their recent high school wrestling camp attracted about 100 teens, while their camp for younger children drew 55.

The enthusiasm is infectious.

“We’ve got a bunch of high school athletes who show up at 8 a.m., just so they can help coach the younger kids,” Powell said. “And we have some college athletes—our alumni—who come back and help coach.”

Beat the Streets’ name reflects its mission: to offer children a healthy alternative to unhealthy choices.CRRNH BTS03 080421

“We’re up against a lot of challenges,” Powell added. “We’re up against gangs, we’re up against single parenting, we’re up against kids who have spent five or six hours a day playing video games. We’re up against a pandemic that has brought mental health challenges, a pandemic in which 10-year-old kids have gained 30 pounds in a year.”

Powell is quick to say that what he and others at Beats the Streets do is not so much about natural talent or even winning on the mat.

CRRNH BTS04 080421“This is about life, this is about a kid coming in here and being taught life skills by good coaches, good mentors,” he said. “What natural athletic ability you have when you walk in doesn’t matter. If you come here and you’re coachable—even if you have two left feet, we welcome you, will work with you and help you change your own life. If you’re all in, we’re all in.”

Beats the Streets is open daily. For full details, visit btschicago.org.

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