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Fielding a team

Lou Dantzler Christmas Classic

Pat Wolf volunteered at the Challengers Boys & Girls Club this semester to assist in developing a basketball program for children from the Club as well as other clubs and schools in the Los Angeles area. The program, which had featured clinics and practices for several months, culminated Friday, Dec. 7, with a tournament among six area middle schools called the Lou Dantzler Christmas Classic in tribute to the club's founder.
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The man in charge

By Danny Savitzky

There is no fortune to be had in this position, no prestige or fame to gain, no power to exert, but Corey Dantzler wants to follow in his father’s footsteps nevertheless.

As the CEO and president of the Challengers Boys & Girls Club in south Los Angeles, Dantzler says his experience is rewarding enough that he hopes to keep doing it for a long, long time.

“Being able to see the kids each day, see the smiles on their faces, have the opportunity to be involved in something that’s positive is something that’s very meaningful for me,” Dantzler said.

In his current position, Dantzler is charged with the management
and administration of the club, including working with the kids himself, fundraising and organization of the club’s programs. Those include homework assistance for members, athletic programs, radio and video production, computer use and more.

Dantzler has been perpetuating the legacy of Challengers as an employee there for 20 years and in his current position since 2006, when his father Lou Dantzler, the club’s founder, died.

“This organization was started by my father with 12 kids in the back of a truck, taking kids to the park,” Dantzler said. “He did that one weekend, and the next weekend he had 24 kids, and it continued to grow.

“Here we are now, some 40 years later, serving close to 2000 kids a year.”

Dantzler said that the growth process was not that simple, though. With his father creating the club from nothing, he tried anything to raise money for the club and benefited greatly from charitable donations.

“Most of our funding comes from any place we can get it from,” Dantzler said. “We always joke that we beg, borrow and steal in just about any way we can.

“The building we are in now used to be a Vons supermarket in the late 1960s. They deeded that building over to my father for $1, and he turned it into Challengers Boys & Girls Club, a 52,000-square-foot building taking up a city block for activities and programs for kids.”

The facility, more like a campus for the club’s members, is a noticeable facility at Vermont Avenue and 50th Street among its rundown surroundings. This “Oasis of South-Central LA,” as Dantzler referred to it, features a 2-story building with classrooms, offices and other activity rooms as well as basketball courts, plenty of field space and even a few tennis courts.

The club even has a dental clinic that offers free dental care to the club’s members.

“We try to keep them very busy with an array of activities and we’re open to accommodate kids who are either in school or not in school right now,” Dantzler said.

Dantzler is quick to point out that the Challengers Club distinguishes itself from other children’s programs in the area and around the country.

“We have certain rules,” he said.

There’s a strict dress code for members. Kids are not allowed to wear gang paraphernalia, boys cannot wear earrings or sag their clothing. But one development that Dantzler is particularly proud of is the club’s requirement that the children’s parents donate some of their time to the club.

“One of the things that’s unique about us was our requirement for our members’ parents to volunteer five hours per month of their time in order for their kids to be involved with the club,” he said.

“I’ve worked at other organizations where they really don’t promote that, and the parents look at the organization as a large babysitting operation, and that’s something we definitely don’t want to promote here,” he said. “We want the parents to come through the doors and be involved not just with their own kids but with all the kids so they get a good understanding of what it’s like to volunteer in a Boys & Girls Club.”

Dantzler believes his system works, and his long-term goals are more about sustaining what his father and he have already built, rather than trying to expand. He is proud of what members of his club go on to do.

Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook is a former member of the club, as was his brother Raynard, who plays college football at the University of Central Oklahoma.

“Those are some of the high-profile cases,” Dantzler said, “but I’ve always enjoyed the kids who have come through who now have families of their own and their kids are in the club and they’ve gone on and done really successful things in their own professional career as well.

“We’ve had kids come back and talk about how the club has actually saved their lives and given them opportunities to learn discipline and solve self-esteem issues they might have had when they were kids.”

Moving forward, Dantzler hopes to keep the club in his family.

“My sons are fairly young, 11 and 7, so my oldest says that he wants to continue what his grandfather and I have done. Ultimately, it’s been an underlying goal to make sure it stays in the family, but there’s no pressure on them because this type of work is very strenuous, but its also very rewarding.”

For now, though, Dantzler remains content just where he is: in an office overlooking a yard full of hundreds of smiling kids.

Los Angeles-area Boys & Girls Clubs

View Los Angeles-Area Boys & Girls Clubs in a larger map.