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Off the Streets, Into the Boxing Ring...But Out of the Gym

Hot Springs coach not letting lack of facility stand in his way

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. -- For decades, retired Hot Springs police captain Willie McCoy has mentored young boys through his love of boxing. By getting kids in the ring, he says he's keeping them off the streets.

But that task grew a bit more difficult earlier this year, when the Boys and Girls Club lost its charter and McCoy's boxers had nowhere to go. The Boys and Girls Club facility is tied up in a legal battle between the still-existing BGC board, Champion College, expected to take over the property, and the City of Hot Springs which wants to acquire the ball fields.

18-year-old Brennan McKisick knows that whether it's in the ring, or life in general, you've got to get back up when you get knocked down. Growing up in Hot Springs without much money or direction, he eventually found himself in youth lockup.

"I came up around a rough childhood, you know," McKisick explained. "Eventually had to open my eyes to the fact the people I was surrounded myself with were no positive influence in my life."

Three years ago, he made a change and took up training with McCoy and the Boys and Girls Club.

"He needs to get a little bit stronger, but he's got a lot of talent," McCoy said of his protégé.

The boxing program is a storied one, beginning in the 1950s and producing champions over the years like Dominick Guinn. McCoy calls losing the BGC charter a "setback."

These boxers may have lost their location, but not their motivation.

"I get the tough kids, the ones everybody overlooks," McCoy explained.

Years on the police force gave McCoy a first-hand look at what happens when at-risk kids get left behind.

"These kids are vulnerable right now," he said, pointing to McKisick and his other pupils practicing behind him. "See the way he's leading them in exercise stuff? On the street, he could probably lead them into doing some crimes too."

For 41 years, he's forged what could have been future fugitives into formidable fighters.

"Got in trouble, got out of trouble, went on, and were successful," he said.

"He motivates his kids," McKisick said effusively of his mentor. "He does so much out of his own pocket."

While McCoy's program carries on without a home, for kids like McKisick, it will always be home.

McKisick will be leaving home soon to train with a big-time coach in California. Meanwhile, McCoy says he's just waiting to see how the legal issues unravel with BGC, Champion College, and the city. He's hopeful they've eventually be able to move into the old BGC building once Champion College takes over.


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