CHICAGO — On the city’s Southwest Side, Beat the Streets is a place like no other where Chicago’s youth can be empowered to become a champion through wrestling — a champion on the mat and in life.
BTS teaches wrestling to boys and girls. It’s not too far from Midway Airport and is now home to the state-of-the-art facility.
Cicero High school senior Alvaro Perez said BTS is the perfect place for him and his brother.
“My mom had left and [my dad] put us in sports to avoid the situation he was in since he was 16 he’s now 39, 40 still working his butt off to provide for us,” Perez said.
With beginnings that stretch back to 1997, BTS took things to another level in 2018 with the hire of executive director Mike Powell.
Powell is a standout wrestler of his own and is the longtime coach at Oak Park River Forest High School. With his team in place, a capital campaign to create the best wrestling program around took root — $2.1 million donated later, it became a headquarters on Archer Avenue.
“We are coming on a year,” he said. “It’s been a glorious year of growth and learning and culture building.”
BTS, located in the city’s Garfield Ridge neighborhood boasts a state-of-the-art facility. It’s a 10,000 square foot building with 6,000 square feet for wrestling.
There’s also a study room for the kids when they are not working things out on the mat.
Central to BTS’ core philosophy is what is called the AGGIE values.
“Accountability, gratitude, grit, integrity and excellence,” Powell said. “This informs everything we do at Beat the Streets. We want to make wrestling champions but it’s far more important to us to make what we call life champions.”
Champions who won’t get sucked into the bad side of what the Chicago streets offer on a daily basis such as crime.
“Hook them with wrestling and then get them involved with our financial literacy, our mentoring, our test prep, our college readiness our summer workshops and so our goal is to develop the whole human,” Powell said.
BTS isn’t just for the boys. The group is about 20% girls and nationally, wrestling is the fastest growing sport in America. And most of the kids at BTS are from Black and brown families.
Perez calls BTS his second family.
“We are part of a family now,” he said. “Every coach loves you. Knows who you are.”
They encouraged him and his older brother to transfer to Brother Rice High School which has one of the best high school wrestling programs around and has helped him with tuition.
Him and his brother practice for life’s imperfect road ahead but with a can do wrestling spirit — taking down whatever goliaths comes their way.