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Drive to change lives

Profile image for By Christian McPhate
By Christian McPhate

Bikers impart lessons to youths

Somewhere in the outskirts of Denton County, the Iron Guardians prepare for their next mission. Dressed in black leather “cuts” with faded patches of a skull emblazoned on a shield with two swords crossed behind it, the bikers look menacing, as if they belong in a Sons of Anarchy episode.

Roadrunner, the national president of the biker club, and Axeman, the vice president, have just met with the rest of the bikers, whose monikers include Bigun, Tank, Mojo and Slider. Skull rings decorate their fingers, and tattoos cover some of their arms as they step outside their clubhouse to smoke cigarettes.

The bikers declined to share their real names to protect their families. It’s also a time-honored tradition.

A biker’s “road name” becomes part of his identity. When they slip on their “colors” (patched vests) and climb onto their motorcycles, they’re no longer just civilians; they become something else entirely, something wild and free.

Inside their clubhouse — a location the bikers don’t want to make public — a black oval-shaped table surrounded by a dozen black chairs is where they sit to discuss club issues. Unlike their notorious TV counterparts, these bikers don’t run guns or drugs, although they’ve all had some kind of run-in with law enforcement officials in their pasts.

“You name it, I’ve done it,” Roadrunner said.

Today, the Iron Guardians take their negative experiences with alcohol, drugs and law enforcement and help at-risk teens in Denton, Dallas and Wise counties make positive choices by sharing their stories of bad choices.

“Basically, you can talk different, you can dress different, you can be different,” said Roadrunner, “but there are choices you have to make every day of your life, and every choice you make has consequences. Our job is to help [the kids] think about the consequences before [they] make that choice.”

The Iron Guardians’ mission is so successful that they spent six years working with the Denton County Juvenile Impact Program before it changed and their services were no longer needed.

Today, they work with Winning the Fight, a drug awareness program in Flower Mound; Voices, Family, Youth and Services, a nonprofit volunteer program dedicated to at-risk families and children in Wise and Jack counties; and Wise and Jack County Juvenile Probation in Decatur.

“These men are passionate, caring and persistent in their work with kids who participate in this program,” Bill Austin, chief juvenile probation officer, wrote on the Iron Guardians’ website. “They have made a significant impact on many juveniles and their families, helping to bring about positive change. I am pleased to recommend the Iron Guardians to continue their work with young people in other communities or through other organizations.”

Kathy O’Keefe of Winning the Fight met the bikers in 2010 after making a drug awareness presentation for a Lions Club meeting. Roadrunner was present and told her about the Iron Guardians. She liked the idea of a biker club working to reach at-risk teens and invited the club to one of her organization’s meetings in Flower Mound.

“The kids love leather, they love tattoos, they love the big guys, they love the whole concept,” O’Keefe said, “and to be honest with you, the parents love it just as much.”

O’Keefe said one of the best things about working with the Iron Guardians is they have a history with negative choices and they don’t judge the at-risk teens.

“The families feel very safe with that,” she said.

Birth of a biker club

The idea for the Iron Guardians was born from an experience Stray Dog, one of the founders, had while riding as a patched member of Bikers Against Child Abuse, an international organization that helps abused children find their voices to stand up to their abusers.

An at-risk teen was skipping school and experimenting with drugs, and Stray Dog asked his BACA brothers if they could do something to make a difference in the teen’s life. But they told him they couldn’t help the teen because he didn’t meet their criteria.

Later, Stray Dog and Roadrunner, who’d also ridden with BACA, were talking about the teenager and what had happened to him, when Stray Dog asked his former biker brothers for help.

“Why don’t we do something to help those types of kids?” asked Roadrunner.

Roadrunner and Stray Dog contacted other bikers they’d ridden with and asked if they wanted to help them start a charter and create a new biker club, one that would help at-risk teens make smart choices that wouldn’t lead to jail or the grave.

Hit Man, Dozer and Sonic thought it was a great idea and signed up to help make Stray Dog and Roadrunner’s dream a reality, but they needed a patch to identify the new biker club.

They decided to create one using symbols that related to their mission: “To build trust and guide our young brothers and sisters to choose the appropriate path in their young lives in the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.”

“The skull represents the evil in these kids’ lives,” said Roadrunner. “The crossed swords is the road, the choices they face, and the shield is us. We’ll do everything we can to shield these kids [from bad choices].”

They decided to name their club Iron Guardians because they ride motorcycles (the “Iron”) and guard children like modern-day knights (the “Guardian”). Prospective members must go through a background check to make sure they’re not sex offenders, and must ride as a “prospect” at least for six months before becoming a “patched member.”

Road names are chosen to protect the bikers’ identity. Most of their road names represent something that defines the biker. For example, “Axeman” used to be a firefighter, “Tank” was a tank-truck driver and “Sparky” is an electrician.

The Iron Guardians work with young people between the ages of 9 and 21, but they’ve found it’s easier to reach kids in the 10- to 14-year-old bracket. They go into juvenile probation or drug awareness programs looking and acting like they’re from the wrong side of the tracks, and the kids relate to them.

They’ve pulled kids out of crack houses in Dallas, helped teens find jobs and visited with them at school. They listen to the kids like big brothers and offer advice if the kids ask for it. And their work seems to be paying off.

To help at least one kid

Axeman and one of his biker brothers were heading to Sanger for a proclamation during Motorcycle Awareness Week when they stopped at a Dairy Queen to eat. They were headed out to their motorcycles when a kid came running out the door behind them.

“I know y’all,” he said.

“You do?” asked Axeman.

“Yep, I was in the Wise County Juvenile Probation Office,” the kid said, “and y’all came to talk to us,” the kid said.

“Well, that’s awesome, man. How are you doing?,” Axeman asked.

“I’m off probation,” he replied, “and I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m getting straight A’s in school, and I got a job.”

Axeman and his biker brother got on their bikes feeling re-energized.

“It’s just little things like that,” he said. “It doesn’t happen very often, but when they do, it makes us more passionate about what we do. We always say to each other, ‘If we can just affect one kid, everything that we do is worth it.’”

CHRISTIAN McPHATE can be reached at 940-566-6878 and on Twitter at @writerontheedge.