At the end of every athletic career is an achievement that is considered its pinnacle. Whether amateur or professional, every competitive athlete wants to be considered one of the best. Friday night in Charlotte, one of Fort Bragg's own earned that achievement.
Alfonso Smith, who produced numerous world-class boxing contenders and an eventual world champion, was inducted into the Carolina Boxing Hall of Fame Friday at the Sheraton-Airport in Charlotte.
Among those in attendance was Anthony Hembrick, a former Fort Bragg boxer and 1988 Olympian and Nathaniel Fitch, former Golden Gloves and Amateur Boxing Federation champ, along with current All-Army heavyweight champion Miree Coleman and a host of Smith Family members and friends.
Smith, who is affectionately known as "Smitty," is a former boxer who has trained numerous champions, such as Muhammad Ali, Roy Jones, Jr., Evander Holyfield, James "Bonecrusher" Smith, Ray Mercer and Hembrick. He has spent more than 30 years in the sport and is known as one of its most
He said the decision to become involved with boxing was an easy one for him.
He attributed the temptation associated with being recruited by local gang members as the deciding factor.
"I said, a guy has got to be crazy to join a gang at 17 or 18 years old," Smith explained. "If I wanted to join a gang, the best gang in the world is the Army. When I came in the Army, I wanted to be a paratrooper and so I kind of got involved in boxing to let out some of the anxiety and frustration."
He said he boxed for a while and was asked if he thought about being a coach, so he gave it a try.
Smith's dedication to boxing is as strong now as it was when he first became involved in the sport. He can remember every fighter he's trained and almost every fighter his boxers have either fought or sparred with.
He still attributes a lot of his success to Fort Bragg.
"You have to give a lot of recognition to Fort Bragg because if it wasn't for Fort Bragg, this induction wouldn't be taking place with me," said Smith, a Norfolk, Va. native and retired Army sergeant first class. "The Army is what brought me to North Carolina. During the years I was at there, Fort Bragg was the Mecca of Army boxing."
Smith, 61, said he accomplished a lot because of the support he received from the Fort Bragg community and said he would love to see the post restore its boxing program.
"It really doesn't have a program right now," he said. "(Fort Bragg) has always been supportive and really, it's whatever the command wants. During the time I was there, the command wanted a boxing program. Being Fort Bragg, home of the paratroopers, if you're going to have something, you want to have the best. In those days we had the best boxing program in the Army."
Smith acknowledged that there were other posts that had successful boxing programs, such as Fort Huachuca, Ariz., Fort Hood, Texas and Fort Carson, Colo. but during that time, none of them could compare to the caliber of boxers that were produced at Fort Bragg.
"When you talk about basketball in North Carolina, you have to think about Duke and the University of North Carolina," Smith said. "When you talked about boxing, years ago, you had to think about Fort Bragg."
Smith's commitment to boxing became infectious within the Smith household. Smith's wife of 38 years, Marie, who was often on the losing end of those late nights at the gym, provided valuable support to her husband throughout his career.
She said her husband is more than deserving of his induction.
"Nobody deserves it more than him," she said before the ceremony began. "He devoted all of his free time to boxing. He truly loves it."
She recalled when Smith and several of his fighters and other colleagues would come to their house and talk about boxing.
"When they didn't listen, he would tell them, 'go on upstairs with my wife,'" Marie said. "By the time I talked to them and asked them, 'what is a handsome guy like you doing boxing'' They would be like, 'Okay, Mrs. Smith, I think I'll go back downstairs with the coach.'"
Marie has been successful in her own right. She has managed to juggle the responsibilities of being an Army wife with those of being the wife of a boxing coach.
"I finally realized that I can't stop it, so I might as well join them," she said. "It's not easy, but when you see that he loves something so much, you're willing to just go with the flow."
Smith, a protAfAgAfA of Angelo Dundee, one of boxing's greatest trainers and the man who was responsible for guiding Ali to his heavyweight titles, said his most memorable time in the sport was in 1986, when he was named Golden Gloves coach of the year. During that time, he had three champions under his belt, Jones, who was the youngest at 17, Nathaniel Fitch, a Fort Bragg boxer who was 31 at the time and the oldest, and Derrick Little, a Greensboro, N.C. native who was also a national champion.
According to Smith, Fitch held two titles at the time, the Amateur Boxing Federation and the Golden Gloves championships. It was also during this time that Smith coached Holyfield, who was on a regional team that Smith was selected to coach. Holyfield lost to one of the participating Army boxers.
"I can think of no one else as deserving as coach Al Smith," said longtime friend Clarence Fleming, who was also in attendance. "He put a lot of time into it, not just in training boxers, but also with mentorship for the young men and young ladies that he trained and for other coaches."
Fleming was not alone in his sentiments toward Smith.
"Smitty is an honest, hard-working and incredibly dedicated to his fighters," said Arnie Tokyo Rosenthal, a multi-talented entertainer and former boxer, who managed a lot of Smith's fighters. "He's also dedicated to his Family. He has two amazing kids who've had great success in their lives and he's just a terrific person."
Rosenthal explained that "Smitty's" job was to get the fighters ready on a technical level and his job was to secure the fights.
"He'd get the fighter prepared and I'd make them the fight and we'd just keep our fingers crossed that everything worked out well," he said. "One of our greatest nights was Dec. 6, 1997, the night that then unranked Keith Mullings won the world title and knocked out champion Terry Norris."
Smith and Marie have two children, Alfonso and Latoya. Others who were inducted into The Hall of Fame include Arthur Davis, Marion Galloway, former Marine Jessie Andra Thompson, Dr. Joseph Estwanik and Jim Heffner.