‘She’s a fighter’: Young Afro-Latina boxer crowned champion in all-female category in Washington Park

Alonso Vidal

When Ángel Ocasio started coaching boxing at Simon’s Park eight months ago, Ivy Jones, 11, was the only girl registered.

Even though Jones was involved in a sport mostly surrounded by boys, she was named champion in her category. Her win exemplifies that girls can succeed in boxing despite their young age.  

“She [Jones] knows now that she can compete with the boys. She had to spar; she had no other choice, and not all the boys took it easy because they knew they couldn’t,” Ocasio said. “She’s feisty. She’s a fighter…they had to take her seriously.”

Ocasio, the head boxing coach at Simon’s Park and the new coordinator of programs and events at the Chicago Park District, said he wanted to help create a space where girls could participate in boxing to show that they can succeed in a male-dominated sport. 

At the end of March, Ocasio helped to organize a boxing tournament with the Chicago Park District that included a day dedicated solely to female boxing. He said the event highlighted how the girls he coaches are “just as entertaining as the boys,” and he hopes to continue hosting similar events in the future. 

Jones stood out during the three days of the tournament; the community witnessed more than 70 fights featuring athletes from the district’s 22 boxing gyms, he said. On March 27th, she emerged as the champion in her category. 

Three and a half years ago, Jones set foot in the gym for the first time, but her boxing journey dates back much earlier. As a child, she would often play-fight with her father, landing playful punches. This laid the foundation for the dream she is now pursuing. 

Jones wasn’t always a champion. 

According to her parents, they initially encouraged her to try the sport after her shyness translated into problems at school. Her parents thought boxing would help with her confidence and self-esteem, they said. 

And it did.

“I would always stand out from everybody else in my class. They would call me a crybaby because I couldn’t control my temper or my sadness,” Jones said. “Then when I started doing boxing, I was able to control myself. I was like, ‘hey, why am I always crying and being sad when I could let all my anger out here?’”  

Marisol Vargas, Jones’ mother, said her daughter was nervous on her first day of training. She was intimidated by being the only girl in the room, but now she isn’t afraid to train with boys. 

“Somehow she broke out of her shell since she started boxing,” Vargas said.

Putting on the boxing gloves gives the girls involved in the program the opportunity to hold their heads high and say “I’m doing something other girls aren’t doing,” Vargas said. “And at the end of the day, they also learn to protect themselves.”

Throughout her boxing journey, Jones has had multiple victories and defeats, but that doesn’t matter to her. It’s what she can learn from her steps in the ring that counts, Jones said.

Ocasio said he’s hopeful for Jones’ future in boxing because she already shows a lot of potential for her young age.

Ivy Jones holds her citywide championship belt next to her coach, Angel Ocasio, in Washington Park on March 27, 2024. (Alonso Vidal)

“I’m excited to see what she’s going to look like in a year or two. I hope she becomes a well-known name in amateur boxing, not just in Chicago, but in national boxing,” Ocasio said. 

The landscape of the boxing gym has been changing in recent years, according to Ocasio. During his tenure at Simon’s Park, female boxing has grown and he says he hopes it will continue to expand in the coming years. 

“Iron sharpens iron. And I don’t want anybody in the park thinking, ‘Oh, we can’t work with them because they’re girls or boys,’” Ocasio said. “When you’re ready, you’re ready. When you’re skilled, you’re skilled.”  

The spring season started with seven new girls enrolled in Ocasio’s boxing program.

“Now with some girls coming in, and they’re around the same age as her [Jones], she’ll be able to grow and develop with them,” Ocasio said. “But I still want her to work with the boys because she doesn’t understand how much she was also helping them.” 

Starting May 30, the city’s fight circuit will begin again. Every Thursday night, fighters registered at a Chicago Park District boxing gym will be able to showcase their determination in the ring. The next all-female boxing night will take place on July 11. 

The events will also vary in location, hosted in park districts across the city, and are open to anyone who wants to support or enjoy local boxing for free. 

Cover Photo: Ivy Jones entrena con la pera de velocidad en el gimnasio de boxeo de Simon’s Park el 8 de abril de 2024. (Alonso Vidal)

Publisher’s Notes: ‘She’s a fighter’: Young Afro-Latina boxer crowned champion in all-female category in Washington Park was first published on The DePaulia. To read the story in Spanish, click HERE.

Illinois Latino News (ILLN) and La DePaulia are partners in best serving the Hispanic-Latino community.

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