By Chris McKinnon

EAST BOSTON (CBS) – It happens here in East Boston. Originally made up of five islands that were eventually connected with landfill, Eastie has welcomed immigrants for decades, including JFK’s great grandfather. East Boston High School was where former Patriots tight end Jermaine Wiggins started his football career.

Today, the hallways of East Boston High serve as the training ground for a unique team getting ready for its next Spartan race. These extreme races combine mud, water, obstacles and even fire. Completing one is not easy and takes months of preparation.

Students participate in the BOKS program at East Boston High School. (WBZ-TV)

To get them ready, coaches Lee Fife and Rigoberto Velez, a retired Lieutenant Colonel and retired Sergeant 1st Class take what looks like a tough approach. The students say it is actually more like tough love.

Sophomore Anirichna Sophorlrath said the most important things he and his fellow athletes are learning every day as they do push-ups, kettlebells, sprints and heavy lifting are discipline and leadership skills. As captain of the team, he is in the trenches and feels the weight of the team on his shoulders and makes sure nobody gives up.

“Motivate other people to try their hardest,” he explained. “That makes me become a better leader.”

This team is a first, piloting a high school curriculum in partnership with BOKS. The BOKS program is all about getting kids physically active, which founder Kathleen Tullie says improves their overall well-being, academic achievement and personal development.

“It helps their confidence; it helps their school work; it helps their mental state,” explained Tullie. “And we’re really excited to see these kids and what they’ve actually accomplished. It’s really exciting.”

Students participate in the BOKS program at East Boston High School. (WBZ-TV)

BOKS is in thousands of elementary schools across the country, including Boston. The program has had success with younger students and now is expanding to older kids. Eastie High has seen success with the newly developed program and interest is growing.

More importantly, Tullie said, anyone can collaborate with BOKS and start up a program. The turnkey curriculum and support from the staff make it achievable for community volunteers, teachers, parents or coaches.

Coach Fife says without the partnership with BOKS, which takes care of race registration costs, equipment and training programs, something like this would not be possible.

More importantly, Fife said, it’s the personal growth he sees these teenagers go through during the school year. He said they are learning valuable skills to help them achieve more once they are out of high school and in a career.

“They get to see different personalities,” he said. “They learn how to navigate through those personalities to make it effective.”


Students participate in the BOKS program at East Boston High School. (WBZ-TV)

The team competed in a Spartan race on May 11. Sophorlrath explained that his teammates got together before the race and decided they would compete together.

“We all actually decided to do it together because we didn’t want anybody to be left behind.”

Every single person on the team crossed the finish line together and that teamwork blew coaches Fife and Velez away.

“They watched out for each other. They bonded, and watching them do that was something we never expected,” said Fife. “They’re the ones that decided they wanted to go as a team.”

If you’re interested in starting up a similar program in your community, head to the BOKS website.

Chris McKinnon


Leave a Reply