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|Boxing coach hopes to instill lifelong qualities|
West Monroe boxing coach Sparky McDuffie has been boxing almost as long as he can remember. As a youngster he trained in the local gym started by his father.
When his father quit boxing in the amateur ranks after leaving the Marine Corps., Buck McDuffie started the West Monroe Boxing Club in 1971 where his son began training at an the age of 15.
McDuffie rose through the amateur ranks and won three national championships throughout a career that spanned over a decade and ended with his retirement from active fighting in 1984.
"When dad got sick with cancer and died in a kind of overnight thing, I retired and took over the club. We had Richard Savage in here. He was ranked in the top 10 nationally at that time. I started training him," McDuffie said.
McDuffie helped Savage to multiple titles throughout his career in the 1970s. Drug problems derailed Savage's career a few years later. Savage, when clean, was considered to be the best boxer to ever come out of Ouachita Parish and a lot of his success is owed to the tutelage of McDuffie.
McDuffie began his amateur career the day his dad opened the gym in 1971. He would go on to win a unprecedented five state championships and be known as one of the toughest heavyweight contenders in the Ark-La-Miss.
McDuffie was the king of the division in 1973 and won two different state events in 1974 and again in 1975.
Through it all, McDuffie has never dwelled on his own accomplishments or championships, instead he says he is more proud of the youth who have worked so hard for him day after day.
"I guess I am the most proud of the kids that came in here and worked hard," McDuffie said. "A lot of the kids that come through here are not that good in other sports. They come here and to see their faces when they have some success in the ring, that is real satisfying for me right there."
Boxing has recently taken a large downturn in popularity and McDuffie credits a lot of the sports recent misfortunes to the meteoric rise of Mixed Marital Arts and the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
"Everybody wants to see a big time champion again like a Mike Tyson," McDuffie said. "Once we see an American champion like that again I think boxing will be back in popularity."
McDuffie is also not sure if MMA has hurt boxing as much as it has helped the sport put on a better show for the fans.
"I think it has actually helped the quality," McDuffie said. "It has certainly pushed the promoters to put on better fights."
A late push by the U.S. Boxing association that McDuffie is particularly excited about is the idea of incorporating amateur boxing opportunities into the local high schools.
"I think it is a great idea," McDuffie said.
McDuffie has been a junior high school P.E. teacher and football coach for more than 20 years. He currently coaches at West Ridge Middle School in West Monroe.
McDuffie says fear of boxing being too violent and dangerous for high school students is unfounded by the people opposed to the measure.
"It is statistically one of the safest sports in the world on the amateur level," McDuffie said. "I have coached football for over 20 years and have seen more injuries on the football field in one day than in the last 15 years of boxing."
McDuffie still turns out great boxers year after year. Tyrone Davis, a 27-year-old Monroe resident, will go with McDuffie to a national competition in Colorado next week. He plans to turn pro after the event.
"I really just want to instill some life-long discipline and work ethic in these guys," McDuffie said. "They have to work a lot on their own so they have to be disciplined and committed to do that."
Through the years, McDuffie has been committed if not anything else. He wants to teach local young men to be committed to the good things in life as much as he is committed to giving them the chance to experience it.