Trainer, boxer give kids the 1-2 punch


Principal for a Day at PS 35 shows students how to apply fight guidelines to their lives

Stepping into the ring a day early, boxing trainer Teddy Atlas was declared a knockout by students as stand-in principal at PS 35.

As “Principal for a Day,” which officially kicks off today throughout the borough, the Todt Hill trainer and ESPN boxing commentator visited grades kindergarten through five at the Sunnyside school, offering advice on nutrition, exercise and learning.

The annual citywide event is coordinated by the Department of Education and P.E.N.C.I.L., a nonprofit organization that promotes partnerships between the private sector and public schools.

Going from class to class, the former trainer of Mike Tyson fielded questions ranging from his favorite baseball team (Yankees) to whether he was a wrestler (No, that’s Tony Atlas) to did he train Muhammad Ali (No, but he knows him).


The last question, posed by third-graders, provided the opportunity for Atlas to explain his philosophy on life and learning.

“Boxing is a lot like going to school, because there’s a lot of rounds and sometimes not all of them are good,” said Atlas, as he explained how a tired Muhammad Ali questioned his own abilities during the 1975 heavyweight title fight dubbed “The Thrilla in Manila.”

“I don’t know if I can do it anymore,” said Atlas, paraphrasing the champ’s words. But Ali did. He hung in for 14 grueling rounds to defeat Joe Frazier.

“When things seem their worst, there is still hope,” Atlas added.

Visiting a fifth-grade class, Atlas explained that training for a championship fight requires both discipline and knowledge, the same things needed for an education.

“I train big, strong men who are powerful. But the strongest muscle in the body is the brain. You have to use it. Exercise it,” he said.

Adding some punch to Atlas’ agenda, heavyweight boxer Michael Grant dropped by the school in time for lunch. The 6-foot-7-inch, 260-pound boxer towered over Atlas, who is leading him on a comeback trail after Grant lost the No. 1 contender spot in 2000 in a fight with Lennox Lewis.

To drive home the point that healthy foods are needed for a healthy body, a spread of carrot sticks, broccoli, fresh fruit, hard-boiled eggs, cheeses and other nutritious offerings were on the cafeteria lunch menu, courtesy of Atlas.

Tsiah Cook cautiously poked at three-bean salad, but the 5-year-old boy was happy with the tuna fish and cheese slices on his Styrofoam tray.

The food was donated by the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation, which Atlas began as a way to remember his late father and raise money for people in need.

Before returning the reins to principal Timothy Behr, Atlas and Grant led the youngsters to the school courtyard for some informal training exercises, including jumping jacks, head-to-toe stretches, jumping rope, push-ups and sit-ups.

Atlas’ final words of advice to the students was to remember his motto, which they repeated, “Day by day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”

Diane O’Donnell is a news reporter for the Advance. She may be reached at

CAP: Teddy Atlas, right, a boxing trainer from Todt Hill, leads fourth and fifth graders through exercises like jumping jacks, head-to-toe stretches, jumping rope, push-ups and sit-ups at PS 35, Sunnyside, while standing in as principal for a day. Boxer Michael Grant, left, shows them how it’s done.


Michael Grant, a 6-foot-7-inch, 260-pound boxer, signs autographs in the lunchroom of PS 35, where students were treated to a healthy lunch.