Boxing championship comes to East Selma Youth Center

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 15, 2003

For the first time ever, Selma has been chosen to host the Southeastern regional boxing championships, a tournament just two steps away from Olympic competition.

The tournament will be held in November, at the Old National Guard Armory. The winners will advance to the national competition, held in New Orleans this year. The winners of that tournament will become part of the United States Olympic team and compete in the next summer Olympics.

Amateur boxing &045; like that practiced at ESYD &045; is a far cry from its professional cousin. Amateur boxing is four rounds long, at two minutes for each round. It might seem short, but if you don’t think eight minutes is a long time, try spending it bouncing around, hitting someone and trying not to get hit.

Participants wear protective headgear, and it takes three punches to score a point, on average.

Obviously a right cross that decks an opponent counts for a little more than a quick jab, but for most punches, the three-to- one ratio is a rule.

Matches are judged by four judges, one on each side of the ring, so none of the action is missed … hopefully.

Some might think boxing consists of two people whaling on each other, but the preparation involved is often too much for most.

Boxers must train constantly. Every other day, ESYD boxers run at least four miles. Then, later, they come to the gym and do push-ups, jump rope and grueling sit-ups with a 20-pound medicine ball.

After about an hour of preparation, they’ll gear up and &uot;spar&uot; or practice in the ring for about two to three hours.

Then, they can go home, go to sleep and get up at 5 a.m. and do it again.

On their &uot;off&uot; days, ESYD boxers run only two miles, do their exercises and box for two to three hours.

Hardy brought boxing to Selma 14 years ago and it’s been growing ever since. The center has become known on both the national and regional levels because of the quality of athletes it has produced.

Boxing is only part of the center, but it was the first part.

Hardy, returning from Selma after bouncing around the country a bit, wanted to give something back to the community.

He knew it was boxing. &uot;If I had the ability to teach kids to become doctors and lawyers and accountants and politicians, I would,&uot; he said. &uot;I had to give what I had. Boxing is something I know.&uot;

Boxing has been a great influence in Hardy’s life and he wants the kids in Selma to have the same positive experience.

Hardy started boxing after high school. A youth spent with education troubles and constant teasing led him to aggressive behavior. &uot;For a long time, I thought I was stupid. Kids would tease me about my inability in school, often resulting in me getting in a fight,&uot; he recalled.

On top of that, other problems surfaced at an early age. &uot;Now you’re growing up in the South and now you’ve got an inferiority complex. I believed I had no self value,&uot; said Hardy.

He started boxing &045; instead of fighting &045; when a friend convinced him to try out for the Air Force team in Montgomery.

A military man named Frank Buccasino was the recruiter. Hardy said he wasn’t impressed by Buccasino at first.

Buccasino was deceptively small, weighing roughly 130 pounds when Hardy met him.

At the tryouts, Hardy agreed to spar with him. &uot;I couldn’t hit him,&uot; Hardy said, &uot;He knocked me down.&uot;

Hardy said he was hooked at that moment. Outweighing Buccasino by at least 30 pounds, he looked at the military boxer in a different light after getting off the mat. &uot;I thought, ‘Anybody that can do this to me … I got to learn boxing.’&uot;

Hardy started training and found himself in his first amateur match three months later. In the first round, he was on the floor again.

His trainer, Sgt. Raymond Hacklin, told him to get up.

Hardy remembers being very tired. &uot;When the round ended, I told him, ‘Coach, I’m tired.’ He said, ‘Frank, don’t quit on me know,’&uot; said Hardy.

The match wore him out so much, Hardy said he didn’t care who won at the end. &uot;I was just glad it was over,&uot; he said.

Hacklin told Hardy he was proud of him and the effort he’d put forth.

After the judges consulted, Hardy and his opponent were called to the center of the ring. Hardy was declared the winner. He said, &uot;They called my corner, they raised my hand as the winner … that changed my life. I felt so good about myself that day and that was a feeling I’d been waiting on all my life. That’s something I’ve been trying to hold onto ever since.&uot;

It’s exactly that feeling Hardy wants the kids who box at ESYD to experience.

Through boxing, Hardy believes that kids can experience something good and combat negative influences. If they experience it through boxing, then they’ll be less likely to get into dangerous situations or use drugs.

His former protg, Napoleon Cleveland, agrees.

Cleveland started boxing at the ESYD at the age of nine. Now 23, he’s been involved in the program almost ever since.

He’ll be competing in the upcoming Southeastern Championships, and who knows, may even be an Olympic contender soon.

He’s been hired by Hardy to run the gym. Cleveland said boxing made him take care of himself. &uot;You can’t drink or smoke. It don’t mix with boxing. You’ll be puking and throwing up in the ring,&uot; he said.

Hardy, through his own personal experience and the experiences of the kids at the gym, believes boxing gives kids a chance to deal with their anger. &uot;If you listen to the sport, you learn what life is about. In order to have control in a sport that’s all about controlled aggression, you’ve got to have self-discipline,&uot; said Hardy.