FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) — Since being reformed three years ago, the Fort Smith Boxing Club has been a team effort for one local family.
The Times Record reports that Harold Corley originally founded the club in 1964 and was involved in its reformation. His wife, Verna, serves as the team mom and their daughter, Kristin Corley, is the club’s secretary. Terry Clark, who has been involved in the club since he began fighting at age 9, is head coach while his wife, Cynthia, is the treasurer.
“What we like to work with is the kids that aren’t big enough for football or aren’t tall enough for basketball,” Harold Corley said. “When we match them up here, we match them as close to age, weight and experience as we can, and it gives them all an even break there.
“They don’t have to compete against the guy that’s a foot taller than they are; we can look at who we want to fight and say whether we want to do it or not. We’ve got a choice there, so that makes it a little better in the boxing area.”
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The club spends almost every Saturday participating in boxing events all across Arkansas and, on occasion, hosts events of its own. Future events in Fort Smith will be on Jan. 20 and March 24.
Currently, there are at least 20 fighters, 15 of whom are able to participate in the various events. The minimum age requirement to join is 8, and all but one of the fighters are 18 or younger, with the other one 25 years of age.
“It’s for youths ages 8 to maybe 30 years old,” Terry Clark said. “Everyone must sign up with USA Boxing. It’s a $56 fee every year.
“We try to provide everything else that the boxers need, like the uniforms and the boxing shoes and stuff like that. We just ask them to furnish their own mouthpiece and hand-wraps.”
While Clark teaches the fundamentals of the sport, there are other things he emphasizes as well.
“I like to teach them self-defense, self-control and self-respect,” Clark said. “We like to pray before our boxing matches, and we want to teach them all to learn to serve Christ and do what’s right. Also for them to keep their grades up in school and just stay out of trouble.”
Clark was one of those youths who were able to avoid trouble due to his association with the Fort Smith Boxing Club. He ended up being a two-time national Junior Olympic winner, the only boxer from Arkansas with that distinction, and compiled a career record of 174-6.
“Boxing kept me from getting in a lot of trouble when I was a kid,” Clark said. “Mr. Corley adopted me when I was little, so I was around him. He taught me some good work ethics and how to work with other kids.”
The Fort Smith Boxing Club is a nonprofit organization that raises money strictly by fundraisers and donations. Whenever the club gets to host a weekend event, it is the biggest fundraiser.
“We try to provide all of the food and everything while we’re gone,” Kristin Corley said. “If we have to stay overnight somewhere, we put them up in the rooms. We try for them not to have to be out of anything because most of our kids can’t afford it anyway.”
Because most of the fighters are underprivileged children, it becomes a big thrill for them to be able to go to road events, even if they’re not scheduled for a bout. The club has also gone out of state to events in Oklahoma City, Kansas City and St. Louis.
“A lot of our fighters are underprivileged kids, and taking them here and there, some of them will probably never leave Fort Smith until they’re grown, so it’s something different for them to get out and see different places and meet different people and different things like that,” Cynthia Clark said. “You can just see their faces light up when we go to different places, and we get out of the van, and they just jump out like it’s Christmas morning sometimes.”
The fighters also practice five days a week at a training gym at 116 N. Sixth St. downtown in a converted bus station. Local business leader Bennie Westphal, who also served as the president of the Fort Smith Boys and Girls Club’s board of directors for 2016-17, was the driving force behind the training gym, which has been in operation for more than a year.
“We’ve had one kid, Gabe Jennings, he’s my first kid that competed in the nationals (this past summer), which made us a national contender team. … He’s 12 years old,” Terry Clark said. “We also had Caleb Fowler last year; he advanced all the way to the regional finals and was beaten in the regionals.
“You can play basketball, you can play football, but you can’t play boxing, and that’s what makes the kids a lot better once they get in there and it’s just him and that guy. It makes them want to do it more and be better. Football and basketball players, you’ve got a teammate. … But in boxing, it’s just you and him.”
Verna Corley added that it is also a thrill to see the boxers develop and mature with their involvement in each weekend event.
“Everybody says, ‘Why are you all involved in boxing?’ And I always say because they’re not ballplayers, they’re not all in the band, they’re not all in the choir,” she said. “It’s a little group that fits in and they’ve got a place to be, a place for them to belong. And we’ve got the best bunch of guys, Terry and his crew down there, working with these kids, they’re just awesome.
“Each time you see them fight, you can see these kids change and you see these kids grow when you watch them through this process, so it’s pretty neat.”
Information from: Southwest Times Record, http://www.swtimes.com/