SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Larry Holmes and ‘Merciless’ Ray Mercer were two of the big guests at Smitty’s Mid-West Boxing Gym’s fundraiser dinner and auction.

“Today is important because we are raising funds for Smitty’s Midwest Boxing Gym and youth center,” Coach Darrell Smith, also known as Smitty, said. “We have a variety of young youth that come to my gym for leadership, building skills, anti-bullying skills to become successful in life and go on to do great things within our community. I’ve been at that for going on twelve years now.”

Smitty’s Boxing Gym is a non-profit located on Scenic Avenue. The 35 kids who are in Smitty’s program do more than get in the ring. They have mandatory tutoring classes, along with speech classes. Kids also have to maintain a B-grade average.

“I’ve developed the National USA Boxing Tournament for kids that went from 2 to 14 states that is now recognized by USA Boxing and the Olympic Committee,” Smitty said.

Every year, Smitty brings in former champions to take photos with kids and families. For Former Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the world Larry Holmes, this was his first time in Springfield.

“I’m a seventh grade dropout,” Holmes said. “Boxing, it gave me an education that I wouldn’t have probably got if I stayed doing what I was doing, which with anything and everything. Wherever I go today I get ‘how are you doing, Champ?’ It’s good because they know I’m a champ, a champion in what I did, what I worked hard for. And that’s what they can do with the education school. They can work hard and get that education and become a champ and not as a boxing champ, but become a champ in arithmetic and your school studies and stuff like that. They can become a champ. And you know, if one person can be the champ out of your city, I accomplished something.”

Smitty said this is ‘Merciless’ Ray Mercer’s second time here. Some other notable guests at previous events were James ‘Lights out’ Toney, Angel Manfreddy, and Al Cole.

“These guys were my roommates in 1988, all army camp, when ten out of twelve boxers went to the Olympic Trials,” Smitty said. “We’ve been close for life. I took a different path in the military and went on into combat and seen the world a little bit more than some of them did. But we stayed close and we have a lot of memories together like brothers.”

Smitty said kids in his program learn several lessons in and outside the ring.

“Boxing is so important to me because when I was a kid gave me a path to follow with discipline and keeping my body in shape and it taught me a whole lot of good morals and values,” Smitty said. “Boxing does a whole lot more for kids, and people realize it’s not just to kids getting in the ring, trying to beat the crap out of [each other]. It teaches those kids how to be a champion, how to take a win, how to take a loss in life inside and outside the ring,”

All of the funds raised from the dinner and auction will go towards the gym’s outreach work for Springfield.

“Some of these kids might not ever leave Springfield if they didn’t come into my gym,” Smitty said. “So it does a lot for the kids.”

Smitty said before COVID, there were between 40 to 45 kids in his program. He’s hoping to ramp things back up to help out more kids.