published Sunday, July 1st, 2012

Mark Wiedmer: Putting local kids over USA


Andy Smith, director of the Westside Boxing Club, does hand pad drills with Darren Kinamore, 10. Smith is a program coordinator for the YMCA and directs the boxing program in his spare time.
Andy Smith, director of the Westside Boxing Club, does hand pad drills with Darren Kinamore, 10. Smith is a program coordinator for the YMCA and directs the boxing program in his spare time.
Photo by Matt Fields-Johnson /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Two weeks ago, Andy Smith got the call that any amateur boxing fanatic would instantly trade his Golden Gloves to receive.

Knowing that the 30-year-old Smith and his father Joe are two of the sport's most passionate supporters in the entire Volunteer State, USA Boxing wondered if Andy could fly out to Colorado Springs to work with the U.S. team for a couple of weeks before it headed to London for the Olympics.

Almost instantly, the wheels in Smith's brain started turning. Maybe this could lead to London calling. After all, he already had spent four weeks in Los Angeles in April helping train the team, then spent two more weeks in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, helping six of the seven boxers he'd worked with in L.A. qualify for the Olympics.

The United States Olympic Committee even had asked him to send them all the necessary paperwork to potentially become a part of the U.S. contingent before he took off for Rio -- just in case he was needed.

Then he remembered.

At the exact same time that USA Boxing wanted him in Colorado, Smith would be needed just as much, if not more, at the Westside Boxing Club's "Boxing Not Bullets" camp for kids. It runs July 9-14.

"That camp means so much to my family," Smith said. "It helps keep them off the streets and helps keeps them in school. Amateur boxing teaches so many important lessons if they'll just listen. I have to be there for that."

So Smith won't be in Colorado Springs the next two weeks and he expects to be at home when the Olympics' opening ceremony takes place on July 27, the boxing to begin two days later.

His father -- who was the manager for the U.S. team in Beijing in 2008 -- could still be called on to join the team again, though he is not scheduled to go to London at this time.

"I suppose we could both be on standby," Andy said. "But just to have been under consideration when I'm 30 has been great. I'm not much older than some of the athletes, to be honest."

He's exactly one year older than 114-pound Rau'shee Warren, who'll be boxing in his third Olympics.

"I talk to Rau'shee almost every day," Smith said. "He actually boxed here at the Trade Center a few years ago against the Dominican Republic. He's almost like a brother."

He also frequently talks to super-heavyweight Dominic Breazeale, all 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds of him.

"He used to play quarterback at Northern Colorado," Smith said. "He won a silver in Brazil. He could be a surprise in London."

The biggest surprise around the U.S. boxing program is that they didn't name a coach until this past week, turning to Basheer Abdullah, who coached the 2004 Olympic boxing team and was the 2000 team's technical adviser in Sydney.

Some might argue that nothing shows how far USA Boxing has fallen from the days of Sugar Ray Leonard, Oscar de la Hoya, Pernell Whitaker, George Foreman, Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, who, of course, answered to Cassius Clay in 1960.

When you can't name a head coach until a month before the opening ceremonies, how can you expect to have a cohesive and committed team in place to reverse the Beijing blues, when the Red, White and Blue failed to win a single gold or silver medal.

But Abdullah told the media upon his hiring, "My goal is to bring USA Boxing back to being one of the best programs in the world."

Even without being asked to join them, Smith said of the hire, "They couldn't have picked a better coach. Abdullah will hold the boxers accountable. I promise you that America will see a more disciplined team, a team with talent, a team that will be ready."

As for Smith, he's ready to get back to the Westside Boxing Club on Central Avenue, to the start of Boxing Not Bullets and the continuation of the family's long-running Jabbin' For Jesus program.

"The Jabbin' For Jesus program is for anyone 8 years old to 40," Smith said. "We end every night with a quick devotional. Hopefully by the time they go home they're too tired to get into trouble."

Being the father of three young children -- Anni, Ava and Avery -- he hopes all this time away from home hasn't gotten him into too much trouble with wife Amber.

"It's probably all for the best that I'm home for awhile," Smith said with a chuckle.

Not that he's completely giving up on reaching the next Olympics in 2016.

"It will be in Rio in 2016," Smith said. "And our team did pretty well the last time I was with it in Rio."

Now the Smith family just needs to make sure that Boxing Not Bullets doesn't pop up anywhere near the Aug. 5 start for the 2016 Summer Games.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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