Boxing champ a positive influence on youth

Whitfield strives to set an example for young boxers

The casual observer at Augusta Boxing Club might not notice that the reigning North American Boxing Organization flyweight champion walks its halls daily.

Ray Whitfield likes it that way.

Whitfield's technical knockout of Sergio Espinoza on Feb. 27 allowed him to reclaim his belt, but the man known as "Stingray" isn't basking in his glory. Whitfield has quietly returned to his duties as a coach at the boxing club, encouraging young fighters to stay off the streets and training them to achieve success.

"It's rare that you see a championship boxer that stays in the gym and works with the kids every day," said Marcus Amos, a youth counselor at the boxing club. "There may be only one or two boxers in the entire country that do that."

Even as the buzz from his performance lingers, Whitfield hasn't deviated from the goal he set when he first took up coaching: to help at-risk youth avoid negative influences by keeping them focused on boxing.

"The first thing I tell the kids is, 'Stay out of trouble,' " Whitfield said. "Look, everyone is not going to be a boxer, but my goal is to keep them motivated so that even if they do go off and do something else like playing basketball or football, they'll remain active and focused on positive things. That makes it less likely for them to get involved in the negative things."

The message, plus his 24-1 record, have made Whitfield a role model for young fighters. They don't view Whitfield as a star; they see him as more of a big brother.

"The belt doesn't change anything," said Justin DeLoach, the nation's No. 2-ranked junior boxer in the 147-pound division. "He's still the same Ray."

But make no mistake, when Whitfield's students receive tips on technique in the ring, they're well aware that the information is coming from a champion.

"I know that whenever Ray tells me something, it's not wrong," DeLoach said. "If he's telling me something, I know it's going to help me in the long run. That's why I always listen to him."

Members of the boxing club witnessed first-hand how effective their coach is in the ring, when he stopped Espinoza in the ninth round. After the fight, Whitfield brought his students into the ring to share in the celebration.

"To be able to see them and have them see what I preach to them all the time, that made me feel really good," Whitfield said.

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