February 13, 2009
By Pablo Jaime Sáinz
Those who knew him, agree that Junior Robles had two passions in life: Boxing, and helping youth improve their lives through boxing.
He was a world-wide recognized boxing coach for the U.S. team, a strong boxer in his own right, and, above all, an advocate for youth in the community. He founded the Community Youth Athletic Association that helped kids focus on academics and make the right choices in life.
Before his untimely death in 1980 in a plane crash while flying to Poland with the U.S. team for an international boxing competition, Robles was well-known in the community for his involvement and support for youth programs.
“He had a don, a gift, something magical about him, that made people like him,” said long-time friend Augie Baréño. “He was from Logan Heights. He was one of our own.”
Robles’ legacy and memory are being honored as the third recipient of the Ernest. H. Wright Sf. Humanitarian Award. The award will be presented by the San Diego Hall of Champions on Feb. 18 at the 63rd annual Viejas Salute to the Champions dinner at the Town and Country’s Grand Exhibit Hall.
The Wright Award, modeled after baseball’s Robert Clemente Award, is presented to a former athlete that made significant contributions to his community. Wright played for the Chargers and later started Pro Kids, a non-profit organization that provides golf opportunities for San Diego youth and inner-city children.
Robles selection for the award is well deserved, said Tom Shanahan, media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions.
“Someone who contributed so much to the youth in San Diego County is important that he is recognized,” Shanahan said. “The program that Junior started gave direction to the lives of so many kids in San Diego. Those types of program are important even today, when we are living in tougher times.”
For Baréño, the recognition is long-overdue.
“We’ve been working on this for 25 years. It’s been a struggle. He was a Chicano and a boxer: Not a traditional fit for the San Diego Hall of Champions. We always believed that he should be recognized. It has taken so many years, but it’s finally happened,” he said.
“It’s something all of San Diego should recognize. That National City named a street after him last year and that he is still remembered speaks volumes about our community.”
The Community Youth Athletic Association that Robles founded was one of the few first youth programs that opened in inner-city communities in San Diego, Baréño said.
“He was the only guy who could rally everybody together because they knew that he was serious about working with young kids,” he said.
In addition to honoring Robles and his legacy, The Salute to the Champions dinner includes inducting the Breitbard Hall of Fame Class of2009 and honoring San Diego’s professional and amateur Stars of the Year as well as the pro, amateur and high school Stars of the Month. The Hall of Fame class is NFL legend and San Diego State running back Marshall Faulk, Chicago White Sox baseball player and San Diego High alum Floyd Robinson, NFL cornerback and Point Loma High alum Eric Allen and off-road racing icon Ivan Stewart.
Baréño said that this award is another way in which Junior Robles’ legacy will remain alive and will continue to inspire new generations of young Chicanos to lead better lives.
“It’s really critical to me that young people learn about Junior and his message: That you have to persevere, that you have to work really hard, and that us, as a community, have to solve our own problems,” he said.
Tickets for the event are $250. For more information, call the Events Department at 619-699-2313 or visit the San Diego Hall of Champions website at www.sdhoc.com