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A Fistful of Fight : Forrest Kelley's Penchant for Sparring at School Prompted His Uncle to Guide Him to the Boxing Ring

July 29, 1993|DUANE PLANK | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SAN GABRIEL AREA — Eleven-year-old Forrest Kelley of Torrance has been in what seems like 1,000 fights, according to his uncle, Geoff Hagins. Of all those fights, only one has taken place in a boxing ring.

Forrest, who has been training as a boxer for about six months, frequently settled his schoolyard disagreements with his fists.

"I always fought when someone bugged me," he said. "I'm not one to settle (a problem) any other way."

Hagins, whose father was a finalist in the nationwide Golden Gloves boxing tournament in 1949, was hoping to find a more acceptable outlet for Forrest's aggressive behavior.

The 4-foot-11, 90-pound Forrest had his first official fight on May 16 at Obregon Park in East Los Angeles. He competed in the novice division of a district Junior Olympic tournament.

Although he lost the fight, which was stopped by the referee in the second round, he gained the respect of youth boxing experts with his tenacity.

"The kid's got a lot of heart," said Joe Minjarez, who runs boxing shows at the Eddie Heredia Eastside Boxing Club in Los Angeles. "Although he really doesn't know anything about fighting, he was throwing punches all the time and really winging it. He's an exciting (fighter), the kind we need. He's got something."

Minjarez wasn't the only onlooker to notice Forrest.

"Two or three trainers went up to him and encouraged him after the fight," Minjarez said. "It's unusual for people to take the time to go up to an (inexperienced) kid and encourage him."

Forrest and his 14-year-old brother, Hagan, a top-ranked junior surfer, moved to Torrance from Hawaii nearly four years ago. Hagins has taken a special interest in the Kelley brothers since their parents died. Patrick Kelley died of a heart attack in 1988, and Kathy Kelley died in 1990 from an inflammation of the heart, according to Hagins. Forrest and Hagan live with their grandparents.

Hagins, 37, boxed in the 1970s at the amateur level and wanted to see if Forrest would take to the sport.

"Boxing is the best discipline for a young person," Hagins said. "It's also a lot safer sport than most people think. Because youth boxing is so regulated, it's safer than football, statistically. It gets kids in better physical condition than any other sport."

In Forrest's weight and age classification, the standard bout consists of three 90-second rounds. Fighters wear protective headgear and use 10-ounce gloves.

There are two primary ways to get sanctioned fights for amateurs. The first is to participate in a show such as the one staged recently at Heredia's club.

The fighters arrive early in the morning and are weighed. After the weigh-in, their names are written on a large board and fighters with the same age, weight and experience are matched up by their trainers. Representatives from the USA Amateur Boxing Federation are on hand to officiate and oversee the proceedings. Winners receive a trophy.

Forrest wasn't able to get a fight at the Heredia show. More than 70 fighters, mostly Latinos, showed up at the gym, and only half of them were matched up. With trainers and parents yelling at each other in hopes of getting their fighter a bout, the scene resembled organized chaos.

Hagins, who acknowledged that he might not be vocal enough during the matchmaking proceedings, took some of the blame for not getting his nephew a fight.

"It's like (trying to be heard) at the (New York) Stock Exchange," Hagins said.

The second way to get a bout is to participate in a Junior Olympic tournament such as the one at Obregon Park. The problem with a tournament bout, said Hagins, is that a neophyte fighter such as Forrest can draw a fighter in his division who has more experience, which is what happened.

With only one bout on his record, Forrest spends more time training than he does boxing. Because he hasn't decided which gym he will train at, he either hits the heavy bag at Hagins' home or goes to South Torrance High, where he runs bleachers, jogs on the track, skips rope and practices punching combinations.

Training and conditioning are the keys for a young boxer, Hagins said.

"The more he gets used to pushing himself, the more at home he'll be in the ring, especially if he gets hit good," Hagins said. "You want training to be hard. If he gets used to this, the fights will be a breeze."

Although he acknowledges the need to develop a training regimen, Hagins realizes that his nephew is only an 11-year-old kid who also wants to do other things.

"I don't want to torture him," Hagins said. "If he starts complaining, I won't make him train if he's got something else he wants to do."

Among the things Forrest likes to do is watch boxing videos and read boxing books. He's not all that interested in current boxers, however.

"I look up to Muhammad Ali, although I don't really like the way he held his hands," Forrest said "I liked his jabbing, running and hitting style. I think the heavyweights are more exciting to watch."

Forrest will be entering the sixth grade in the fall. His involvement in boxing has changed the way some of his classmates think about him.

"People don't pick fights with me because they know that I'm a boxer," he said. "At first, some people think they can beat me up, but then they'll hear that I'm a boxer and they have second thoughts."

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