published Saturday, July 7th, 2012

Ron Bush: Smiths call in big guns vs. 'bullets'

It's called "Boxing Not Bullets." It easily could be "Boxing and Bible, Not Bullets."

Joe Smith makes no secret about the camp he is running with his son Andy next week at their Westside Boxing Club facility on Central Avenue: It's a one-two punch to fight criminal influences.

The brochure states clearly that "this is a Christian-based camp. Campers will be exposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ."

They will "be taught character traits," it adds, "to equip them to make good life choices and stay away from street and gang involvement."

The Smiths work for the Young Men's Christian Association, after all. Joe directs Y-CAP, which is the Y's Community Action Program, and the Westside Knockouts are an outgrowth of that. Andy Smith is the head boxing coach.

The camp for boys and girls ages 10 and older runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and will culminate with competition at 10 a.m. Saturday under a big tent that has been erected behind the former fire station that houses the Westside program. The tent will make it possible to run three rings all week, and there will be boxing for two hours each morning and two hours again every afternoon.

Spots remain, and the cost is only $25, lunch included. And if that is a hindrance, it needn't be: Scholarships are available.

And the boxing instruction will be high quality. Joe Smith served as the United States men's team manager for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and as the U.S. women's team manager for the Continental Championships this year in Montreal. Andy helped in Olympic preparation camps in 2008 and was an assistant with the U.S. men's team that won six medals in the Americas tournament in Brazil this year.

Westside assistants Dale Peeples and Tommy Heape also will be on the camp staff, and a couple of special guests will be instructing as well. Deontay Wilder, the 6-foot-8 heavyweight from Tuscaloosa, Ala., who won an Olympic bronze medal in 2008 and has a 12-0 record as a professional fighter, will help all week. Ed Weishers, coach of the U.S. Air Force Academy boxing team and USA Boxing's national director of coaching from 2008 to '10, will be present Thursday and Friday.

Mike Martino, president of NCAA boxing, will make an appearance, as will Ringside Inc. owner John Brown and Shawn Reese, the chief of officials for Southeastern USA Boxing.

There were no girls among the 43 campers registered as of 2 p.m. Friday, but they are welcome with women's boxing now in the Olympics. That largely is because of the influence of Dr. Christy Halbert, an author and former boxer who coaches the U.S. women's team and chairs the international boxing women's task force. She'll be at the camp Monday before heading to Colorado Springs for final preparations before London.

"She's an icon," Joe Smith said, noting also her books on psychological preparation for sports.

Boyd Patterson from the Chattanooga Gang Task Force, CADAS executive director David "Boomer" Brown and Hamilton County Juvenile Court director Antinio Petty -- also a top-tier college basketball official -- will make presentations at the camp. So will Buddy Curry, the former Atlanta Falcons linebacker whose Kids & Pros program is familiar to Chattanoogans.

The Smith also have a strong lineup of ministers and others coming in to lead devotionals and tell amazing life stories, in some cases. One of those is the Rev. Larry Smith, a former boxer, rodeo cowboy and drunk who founded the Agape Youth Ranch in Arkansas. When he swapped competition for preaching at rodeos, he had no steady income, so many of his meals were leftovers of hot dogs and popcorn he found under the bleachers.

Now he fills seats.

"Larry speaks all over the country, and he has an unbelievable ministry. That's a working ranch," Joe Smith said. "I've taken Y-CAP kids there several times."

Now he's taking Y-CAP into a new venture. It's a big step, but the national success of the Westside boxers makes the inaugural Boxing Not Bullets a regional draw. About a dozen kids from Johnson City, Nashville and Huntsville are signed up and will be staying overnight on the premises.

Joe Smith makes no secret: He's using boxing as fishing bait.

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