All 11 boxers and three coaches attended the event, which both honored the team members for the accomplishments as well as offered them a chance to inspire and share their experiences with the Kiwanis club members. The WCAP members participating in the event were Michael Benedosso, Alexis Ramos, John Franklin, Connor Johnson, Dustin Lara, Nathaniel Hicks, Zacchaeus Hardrick, Quentin McCoy, Jeffrey Spencer, Joe Guzman, Andrew Shepherd, assistant coach Charles Leverette, assistant coach Christopher Downs, and head coach Basheer Abdullah.
Abdullah opened the event with a short introduction of his team members and explanation of the World Class Athlete Program. He then introduced five members of the team to share with the group in attendance. U.S. Olympic Team Trials light heavyweight champion Christopher Downs (Fort Carson, Colo.) was the first to speak to the Kiwanis members. The boxer-turned-coach told the group about his road from a postal office employee to his deployment to Iraq. Downs went on to talk about the people who had helped him along the way, making his boxing career possible despite his age and limited experience in the sport. The new coach closed his remarks by telling the attendees that the World Class Athlete Program has provided him with the unique ability to chase his dreams in boxing while doing what he loves most - soldiering.
Heavyweight Joe Guzman was the second speaker to take the floor and although his entry into the army followed a different path than Downs, the U.S. Army allowed him to turn his life around. As a young man, Guzman admitted that he spent time with a bad crowd, but decided as an 18-year-old that he wanted to find a new direction. The Army gave him an introduction to boxing as well, although it definitely wasn't an easy one. In his first sparring session, he faced a much larger boxer, and despite his height disadvantage, the coaches saw his potential. The Army and the World Class Athlete Program have allowed Guzman to see the world and grow as a man. "I was a knucklehead as a kid," he said. "I'm glad to have these positive people around me to encourage me to do better."
Perseverance was a key element of super heavyweight Andrew Shepherd's presentation. His road to WCAP started in a small town, even smaller than the restaurant hosting the event, Shepherd joked. He joined the Army to find a way out of his small town, and a short time later, took up boxing, competing in the All-Army championships multiple times. It took a few attempts before he found success in the sweet science, but his determination has paid off as Shepherd recently won a gold medal at the World Military Championships. "The best benefit of the World Class Athlete Program is the opportunity to speak with high school students," Shepherd said. "When you talk to people about the military, they think about what they see on television. When I tell them about the things they can do, you see the light in their eyes."
The presentation moved from the heaviest boxer to the smallest as light flyweight Michael Benedosso was the final athlete to speak. A West Point graduate, Benedosso was introduced to boxing in college through a mandatory class and fellow West Pointer and then USA Boxing National Team Member Boyd Melson. He credited the efforts of others in allowing him to become a member of the World Class Athlete Program instead of facing deployment. Benedosso saw a similarity in the mission of the Kiwanis Club and programs within the United States Army. "The Army is a tool for the U.S. government to better both the United States and the World," he said. "We are teammates in the same goal - bettering the world."
Assistant Coach Charles Leverette closed the presentation by sharing the positive impact that the sport of boxing can have on young people. He discussed the core values, such as discipline, confidence and focus that the sport can help to instill in the athletes who participate.
Events such as the lunch presentation for the Kiwanis Club are an outstanding opportunity to showcase boxing and its benefits to members of every community. USA Boxing will be working with its national team athletes and coaches to broaden the positive outreach of the sport in the future. If you are interested in having an athlete or coach speak at a school, community event or take part in any community initiatives and need assistance, please contact USA Boxing's National Office at (719) 866-2300.