Harnett County Sheriff’s Office Police Athletic League (PAL) director Mark Hornsby discusses the return of the Christy Martin Title Boxing Invitational, held in Fayetteville over the weekend.
FAYETTEVILLE — As oohs and aahs circulated the Freedom Courts Sports Complex Sunday, Mark Hornsby joined the likes of former heavyweight champion Ray Mercer in consuming the marathon of fights unfolding before them.
Hundreds of current and former athletes made their rounds, peeking over shoulders and squatting on bleachers to watch one of the nation’s most competitive amateur boxing events.
It was a scene Hornsby had become pleasantly familiar with before last year, as his Harnett County Sheriff’s Office Police Athletic League (PAL) was a regular host for the Christy Martin Title Boxing Invitational until the COVID-19 pandemic forced his group to temporarily hang up its gloves.
“We’ve been shut down for a year ... and we take a lot of pride raising our own money,” said Hornsby, noting just about 95% of the group’s annual funds comes from the marquee tourney’s proceeds.
“It’s been an excellent tournament, one of the best on the east coast ... We would’ve love to have it in Harnett County this year but we did not have a big enough facility.”
Promoted by Christy Martin, a former world champion who helped “put women’s boxing on the map” during her career in the 1990s and 2000s, the formerly annual event has always attracted a collection of talent from across the country.
This year, Hornsby says the two-day competition yielded over 300 boxers, of both genders and varying ages, hailing from as far as Puerto Rico.
Among the crowd with local ties was Chris Simmons, who has run Simmons Boxing Gym in Angier for the past five years.
“I just love the kids. It’s a good thing to get them off the streets,” Simmons said after bringing 14 of his athletes, ranging from ages 8 to 18, to the event.
The nationally certified trainer has his club compete in worldwide tournaments, having boxers win championships in places such as Montenegro and, most recently, Canada.
He says having his diverse group of boys and girls take part in such a renowned national event helps with their overall progression, both in and out the ring.
“It’s awesome. I believe that it just helps them be more culturally sensitive and to be able to adapt to different situations,” he said.
“Not only does it help in handling themselves around different types of people, it also teaches them discipline and respect.”
Meanwhile, Hornsby coached six participants from the sheriff’s office PAL program and picked up a pair of wins on Saturday. Nick Woods, one of the program’s veteran boxers, was the only athlete among the six to have previously taken part in the tourney.
Hornsby says the other boxers, like Danny McKoy, James Taylor and Terry Hudnett benefit from getting matched against an opponent in their age and skill level, which is one of the biggest obstacles at the amateur ranks.
Hudnett, competing in the 40-and-over masters division, ended the two-day stretch with a convincing win in his heavyweight title bout.
Hornsby says he hopes all of his program members gained experience with being able to stay on task despite three rings of simultaneous action and having to fight more than one bout.
“These big tournaments really help them ... just the experience of having a lot of people being around them like there’s going to be at national tournaments,” Hornsby said.
He added that McKoy, Taylor and Woods are among those expected to make the trip to nationals in December.
Donnell Coley can be reached at email@example.com or 910-230-2040.