The Pine Bluff Boxing Club has witnessed its share of knockouts, and not just in the ring.

The Pine Bluff Boxing Club has witnessed its share of knockouts, and not just in the ring.

The program has suffered pitfalls for the past 10 years or so with a revolving door of participants and volunteers to run the facility at the Merrill Community Center. But recently, the organization has received a boost from the Pine Bluff Parks & Recreation Department.

Laura Hildreth, director of community centers, said becoming involved with the boxing club was just a part of a long list of connections the parks and rec department was striving to assist.

“The boxing club is very important to me personally as a fan of the sport,” Hildreth said in a phone interview Friday afternoon. “There is so much potential in this club. But my whole focus is to get sports back in the community centers and peak the interest of our youth. It could save a life.”

It may have already, at least in part.

Under the current guidance of coach Scott Ladd, three members of the boxing club, Donald Griffin, Mason Wickett and Quincy Means, are currently in North Little Rock fighting for a chance to compete in the Golden Gloves national championships in Las Vegas. The trio of Golden Gloves competitors has surpassed the state level and is competing in regional action. Winners there will advance to the highest possible level of amateur pugilism.

Means won his match Thursday night and will fight again today. Griffin was scheduled to fight Friday night. Wickett was defeated in his first match.

Without Ladd and the ring inside Merrill, things could have been different for at least one of the three.

“This place means the world to me,” the 19-year old Wickett said. “If something happens to it, I would lose myself. It took me off the streets. To be honest, I would probably be in jail. I went through a phase about 15 or 16 years old. They got me disciplined up here, got me back in school. I graduated and went to college. Without them treating me as family … I don’t know.”

Wickett, who fights in the 141-pound class, said he expects only the best out of the three fighters.

“I expect nothing but to be successful,” Wickett said. “I am coming off about a two-year layoff. I was in a car wreck last year so I am just now coming back. But we have been in the gym all week getting ready.”

Wickett also understands what a good showing in North Little Rock would mean to the Pine Bluff community.

“Pine Bluff is not known for the good we do,” Wickett said. “Mostly just the bad, but there are a lot of talented guys here.”

And that talent pool is slim for Ladd, though the population of the city reveals there is a deeper consortium to draw from. With a collection of around 10 regulars that enter the Merrill Center doors on a regular basis, Ladd said the numbers are about half of what he would be able to accept.

“We’ve had at, times, 50 or 60 kids up here,” Ladd said. “I feel like I could handle 15 or 20 just between me and Kyle Barber. It’s a goal of mine to get more coaches to come in and take these newer kids and get them to a certain level. From that level we need another set of coaches to get them to the next level where we can take them from there.”

Ladd and his constituents have paved the way with fighters like Griffin, Means and Wickett. Griffin said the Merrill Center has also played a key role in his development as a boxer and would like to cultivate a professional career, with this weekend’s regional bouts finalizing his amateur status.

“I no longer train here,” Griffin said. “I did train here once upon a time. This is my home. If I go up there (to North Little Rock) and lose, this is my last amateur bout. One day, if I am successful, I plan to put a gym here in Pine Bluff, my own private gym. This place has been shut down so many times, you know. It makes you wonder how long it will stay open.”

Griffin, fighting in the 152-pound weight class, admitted he sought out training from other areas when the boxing club fell to the mat.

“When I first started coming here it was just a couple of bags hanging up,” Griffin said. “It’s come a long way. But it had been shut down and the coaches left and this and that. And everybody ventured off. I ventured off and found training elsewhere. But I still have this love for Pine Bluff.”

With Hildreth and Ladd investing their time and some grant money on the horizon to fund the program, Griffin’s plans may be an addition to the boxing community and not an only option.

“I have only been here about six months,” Hildreth said. “But I could see the passion in Coach Ladd’s eyes when I first met him. It’s people like him that are going to make positive things happen. Whoever is going to rebuild this community I will partner with them.”

The youngest of the trio at 18, Means (123-pound class) said the benefits of training under Ladd at Merrill has prepared him for this weekend’s bouts.

“This is my second time around,” Means said. “I kind of messed up my first time but I was only like 16 then. I feel like I have gotten better through my training and the things I have learned here.”