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McKenzie Robinson | SBJ

2021 Men of the Year: Darrell “Smitty” Smith

Smitty’s Mid-West Boxing Gym/Youth Center Inc.

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Last edited 4:32 p.m., Aug. 17, 2021

Not many Springfieldians can say there’s a PBS documentary about their life. Darrell “Smitty” Smith can.

Smith is a lifelong boxer, though it might be more fitting to call him a fighter.

His battle the past decade has been on the streets of Springfield, mostly the north side, to pull at-risk youth out of the life challenges they might be facing. Smith runs Smitty’s Mid-West Boxing Gym/Youth Center Inc. on Commercial Street. It’s a 501(c)(3) nonprofit offering youth training beyond boxing skills.

“I hope to give kids the ability to realize the importance of hard work and dedication for their future, whether it be in boxing or anything else, and lead them to have good character, professionalism, and a passion for their community going forward,” says Smith.

In January, PBS and Ozarks Public Television released “Fighter: A Boxing Story.” It tells the Springfield native’s story from growing up in the local Boys & Girls Club to serving in the U.S. Army and starting his nonprofit boxing gym in 2012 and the champion boxers and people who have come out of it.

The boxing curriculum at “Coach Smitty’s” gym includes grade checks, tutoring, mentoring and anti-bullying lessons. The program has a minimum C-plus grade average and mandatory homework Thursdays. In Smith’s mind, if he wasn’t spending time with his boxers, they could be selling drugs, dropping out of school, engaging in crime or joining gangs.

Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott agrees.

“The bottom line is if he didn’t get those kids and turn them around, it’d be somebody that I would have to deal with later on in their life,” he says in the PBS film.

With discipline, self-confidence, anger management, leadership, teamwork and respect at the core of the program, Smith’s goals for the youth are to graduate high school, learn life skills and become productive community members. Many do excel at boxing.

“Over the years, the gym has sent kids to the military who now have great careers, helped develop college graduates, and turned out Golden Gloves Champions and Junior Olympic Champions, some of whom have gone on to be excellent professional boxers,” Smith says.

Smith is well-equipped to train them on that path, too. His personal fighting record is 218-14, according to his resume. Among his 200 awards in boxing, he’s won 30 Golden Gloves championships and made the All-Army Boxing Team.

Before Smith started the gym, he had a 10-year stint in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, where he retired as a disabled veteran, and worked in law enforcement in Missouri for the BNSF Railway.

He’s a member of the Heart of the Ozarks Sertoma Club, which raises money for the Boys & Girls Clubs organization that he grew up in.

Now, his time, talents and treasures are spent in the gym providing an outlet for the kids.

“They learn that it is OK to say no to drugs, alcohol, gang activity, and doing the wrong thing,” he says. “In return, we have kids who are dedicated, and give their all to themselves, this program, their families, and the communities.”


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