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Teacher engages students through Mixed Martial Arts

Teacher engages students through Mixed Martial Arts

Hand wraps, boxing gloves, and shin guards. To the outside observer, it might look like a typical afternoon at Northglenn’s Grinders Fitness, but in actuality, it was anything but. Former Professional MMA Fighter and Vital Training Systems founder Vinnie Lopez was preparing to surprise a special group of students: Thornton High Schoolers who had collaborated with P.E. and Health Teacher teacher Todd Meredith to pursue their passion for mixed martial arts.

Vinnie Lopez goes over form and technique with Thornton High School students

Pictured above: Vinnie Lopez demonstrates striking technique to Thornton High School students.

What started as a simple ask for some coaching and space to practice turned into a true community collaboration between students, Thornton High School staff, former MMA fighters, local gyms and the MMA community. 

Community Champions

After his students approached him, Meredith reached out to his contacts from his time fighting professionally. Two helping hands reached back. Shannon Sinn and Bill Vaughn from Grinders Fitness offered up a time slot at the gym for the students to train for free, and Jeff Cisneros from Sparta Sports Entertainment footed the cost of the liability insurance for these students to train. This gave the students a place to safely and respectfully release built up energy in a productive manner, but another issue quickly arose: These students didn’t have the financial resources to get proper equipment.

And so, Meredith brought even more community partners and school district leaders into the fold. School Resource Officer Shawn Tichota and the Thornton Police Department collaborated with the district’s Whole Child Initiatives Coordinator Lisle Reed to get the students necessary equipment. Tichota worked with Dick’s Sporting Goods and was able to secure plenty of donated supplies for the students, and Reed was able to support the group by finding funds that were available through grants for additional gear that hadn’t been secured yet.

“I really hope these kids appreciate, not just what I’m doing, but what other people are doing and what is being passed on to them and the connections they’ve made,” Meredith said. “(Vinnie Lopez and Jason Lee) both had a rough background and they talked about how MMA and Fighting really helped them. They’re both great people and doing great things and this has really helped them find their path in life. I’ve had them come in and talk to the kids about that and then showcase some stuff, and I think it has been really good (for the students).”

Meredith and Thornton High School students pose for the camera in Sparta Sports Entertainment octagon

Pictured above: Thornton High School students are able to experience viewing a live fight card hosted by Sparta Sports & Entertainment at the Blue Sport Stable in Superior thanks to Todd Meredith, Jeff Cisneros and other community partners.

Seizing the Moment

After these students demonstrated their commitment through months of hard work and practice, they got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn techniques from Lopez and benefit from his years of experience  both as a fighter and a trainer for high-level strikers. He coached students on footwork, technique and combinations in order to refine their form. 

Students also recently had the opportunity to train at NEW ERA Jiu Jitsu in Northglenn under Meredith’s longtime friend Matt Sierra at no cost to them. This allowed students to develop jiu jitsu skills and incorporate this training into their grappling strategy. Another friend of Meredith that has invested in this work with his time and effort in helping shape the future of the students, is Jason “The Dragon” Lee, a former MMA fighter that actually faced off against Meredith. Lee is happy to help these students because he understands the hardships they face and wants to impart some lessons that will be helpful in and out of the ring. 

Vinnie Lopez watches over as Thornton High School students complete the drill

Pictured above: Vinnie Lopez observes Thornton High School students as they work on his striking technique lesson.

Vinnie Lopez observes students as they safely work on hitting each other and being good practice partners

Pictured above: Vinnie Lopez observes Thornton High School students as they work on practicing hitting and breathing technique while being safe and respectful training partners.

“Like Brothers”

“(We’ve) been able to train and learn MMA with a bunch of amazing MMA practitioners like Jason “The Dragon” Lee, Vinnie Lopez, and some other big names,” said Thornton High School Sophomore Rex Ready.

“We have a really solid group, and we’re all like brothers.”

As students are working through Lopez’s lesson plan, you can see the sense of camaraderie that they have for each other. They are safe and respectful partners, they encourage each other, and they have fun. These students have been able to learn more about the sport, but they’ve built these relationships that may last a lifetime.

“I learned how to be part of a team. This sport is more of a solo sport, but when you train with the same guys consistently, it forms a sort of brotherhood you know,” said Thornton High School Sophomore Elijah Espinoza.

Jason Lee offers guidance to two Thornton High School Students

Pictured above: Jason "The Dragon" Lee offers advice on the lesson to two Thornton High School students.

Dreams Unlocked

It is 5 p.m. and class has concluded. Lopez and Meredith sit with the students and end the lesson plan with some shared life experiences, words of encouragement, and respectful farewells. As gear is wiped down and bags are being packed, Meredith asks for a group photo with all of the students and Lopez. Everyone meets up on the mat and poses together. Opportunities like this wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for great people and generous partners donating to the cause, and these students are grateful for that.

“This means a lot to me because I’m not very endowed in money, so going to a gym that is totally free, get my work in, and leave, feels great,” sophomore Aidan Lansville said. “Honestly if not for any of these people, I probably never would’ve been able to have the chance to do this.”


Vinnie Lopez ends class with some words of wisdom for Thornton High School

Pictured above: Vinnie Lopez ends class with motivational words and life lessons for these Thornton High School students.

Special thanks to the Thornton High School community for submitting this Five Star Story.

This story exemplifies our ELEVATE Focus Area: World-Class Staff. Sharing stories about how staff is compensated, supported and trained to foster student success and family partnerships.

  • Thornton High School