When Jimmy Cvetic walks into the Third Avenue Café at 9 a.m., there's already a teen-age kid trying to get his attention.
"I want to learn how to box," says the shirtless, tattooed teen.
"Be here, 4:30," Cvetic answers. "You know the deal: You get one free play, so don't mess it up."
"I won't," the kid replies. He hops back on his bike and speeds haphazardly out into the busy intersection of Third and Ross.
"Who was that?" asks one of the café's regular customers.
"Him?" Cvetic replies casually. "He's one of those kids that's been in some trouble. And now he wants to be a boxer."
Welcome to the world of Jimmy Cvetic, retired Allegheny County police, and owner of the Third Avenue Gym (and the café next door). For 33 years he's been working with kids -- some troubled, some not, but all in need of direction. And through his Police Athletic League, Cvetic has taught hundreds of kids of all ages how to box, how to channel their aggression into an outlet other than selling rock or breaking into homes.
Every sports-savvy Pittsburgher knows where to go for a baseball, football, basketball or hockey fix. And thanks to Cvetic and his group of hard-working fighters, fans of the sweet science can also get their boxing fix, while supporting kids who need it the most.
Cvetic puts on between 20 and 30 amateur boxing shows per year at various venues: Bouts have been held at Heinz Field, the Monroeville Expo Mart and the Pittsburgh Athletic Association in Oakland. Every dollar made on the fights goes right back into the program.
Cvetic also sponsors scores of fighters in the annual Pittsburgh Golden Gloves tournament, which takes place every February through April, leading up to the national tournament in May. The shows feature amateur fighters aged 15 to 25; Cvetic begins working with children as young as 8 or 9.
"As a rule, we get tough kids through these doors," Cvetic says. "They're not all bad or in trouble, but let's be honest: We're not getting choir boys from Vienna in here."
But whatever else the kids get from Cvetic, they get a shot at greatness, however fleeting. "I don't care how tough the kid is or how bad he is," Cvetic says. "When he puts on those trunks and those gloves and steps into that ring under the lights, it's a moment he's going to carry with him the rest of his life.
"No matter what he becomes in life, for at least one moment, he'll always have the lights."
Gloria Sztukowski, who heads the Western Pennsylvania Golden Gloves, says Cvetic's program has a proven history of helping the young men -- and now women -- who come through its doors. Some of Cvetic's boxers have gone onto college, becoming lawyers or police officers. Others have gone pro.
Cvetic's most famous protégé is local lightweight boxer Paul Spadafora has never lost a fight and is a former world champion. Despite Spadafora's legal problems -- he served jail time for shooting his girlfriend -- Cvetic says Spadafora was and still is a good kid.
"I knew Paul as a little kid before the problems, before the tattoos," Cvetic says. "He's a good kid and he's paying for his mistakes. … He went to jail for what he did, and on top of that, the time he was out of the game easily cost him $2 million."
Another Cvetic alum is Monty Meza Clay, the Rankin fighter and International Boxing Association super-featherweight world champion, whose popularity has skyrocketed locally in the past several years.
So far, none of Cvetic's boxers have made a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, but it isn't for lack of trying.
"We've been close a couple of times," Sztukowski says. "But to be able to help a kid -- to build a champion both inside and out -- is our main goal.
"Boxing is an art. It teaches discipline that a lot of these kids need. Boxing turns them into young athletes, and there is a lot of pride attached to that."
But there is one thing that all of the fighters from Monty Clay to the shirtless kid on the bike all have in common -- the devotion of Jimmy Cvetic. As long as they're willing to do the work, of course.
"We have two rules in this gym," Cvetic says. "Don't use what I teach you out in the streets, and don't you dare let me catch you stealing from another member of this gym. It shows disrespect to the people who are trying to help you.
"Other than that, if a kid wants to learn how to box, if he wants to know what it's like to stand in the lights just once -- all they have to do is come and ask me."
For more information on the Police Athletic League or to volunteer, call Jimmy Cvetic at 412-298-7373 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.