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Sai’Yhon Knightnor, left, and Jordan Crutchfield display the Gloves over Guns belt won by Knightnor in his recent amateur boxing debut in Richmond. Crutchfield’s match was cancelled after his opponent pulled out of the fight before what would have been Crutchfield’s debut in amateur boxing.

Emporia’s Sai’Yhon Knightnor finally got a chance to step in the ring in Richmond last weekend for his amateur boxing debut in the Gloves over Guns event.

The adrenalin was pumping through Knightnor’s body from the moment he stepped into the ring. The first punches were thrown, and the bobbing and weaving didn’t temper the excitement for the 16-year-old until the final bell rang. Knightnor walked out of the ring with a convincing win over Ramir Dixon of the Future Champs Club.

“It’s the same ring I spar in,” Knightnor said. “When I got in there, it felt bigger. I was excited. I can’t wait to get back in the ring.”

Knightnor was scheduled to fight his first match on June 19, but his opponent could not go, and the debut had to wait. His East End Boxing-South teammate Jordan Crutchfield will have to wait yet again. For the third time in four months, his opponent pulled out of the fight before it started.

“It’s real frustrating,” Crutchfield said. “It’s disappointing and easy to get discouraged, but I have the support of my family and team members to keep my head lifted up every day.”

S.T.R.O.N.G. Temple Fitness owner Gene Porter initiated a football and boxing camp for youth seven years ago. The boxing portion of the program took off when it partnered with the East End Boxing Club of Henrico. The Emporia fighters are teammates of East End boxers.

Boxing allows the youth to do something they love, but it’s not the top mission for Porter. He wants the kids to be accountable to themselves and their teammates. Schoolwork is a top priority. The East End Boxing South members all sign contracts to keep their grades in good order. Drugs are prohibited, and the teammates are careful of what they post on Facebook and other social media.

Club members work on boxing and training Monday through Wednesday. On Thursdays, professional counselor Essence Turner comes into the gym to run the “Dress for Success” portion of the boxing program. In addition, the students go through outreach therapy to cope with everyday issues faced by youth today.

“I’ll talk to them about adversity going on in their lives and help them clear their minds,” Turner said. “Like Jordan said, sometimes it’s easy to get discouraged. We promote positive affirmations and keep them mentally stable.”

Saturdays are reserved for trips to the East End Boxing Club in Henrico. The Emporia-Greensville youth get the opportunity to work out with members of the club’s home base site. Knightnor’s sparring partner is two-time Golden Glove winner Chris Cooper. Knightnor and Crutchfield are appreciative of the opportunity to work with the East End fighters.

“I appreciate what East End has done for me,” Knightnor said. “If I never had the chance to go up there, I wouldn’t be where I am now.

Porter hopes to bring an event to Emporia early next year. The East End South squad needs community assistance to make it happen. The costs include getting a ring, officials, a site, and sanctioning fees.

Porter said an amateur boxing event in Emporia would allow fighters from North Carolina and East End South to step in the ring closer to home instead of traveling to Richmond or Washington D.C. Crutchfield is urging the community to help make an event in Emporia happen.

“We take boxing seriously, and we sacrifice a lot,” he said. “We put a lot of time into this sport. I hope the community supports us. We’re trying to put Emporia on the map.”

For more information about the 407 South Halifax Street, Emporia boxing program, call S.T.R.O.N.G Fitness at (804) 704-4787.