WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Getting in trouble in the boxing ring and getting in trouble outside of it are two different things. In the basement of the 14th Street Community Center in Winston-Salem, it’s Clifford Hardy’s job to make sure youth avoid both.
“If they get here, I can change their life,” Hardy said.
In 1980, Winston-Salem native Hardy’s boxing career was flourishing.
“I had a really good, promising career,” he remembered.
Hardy had hoped to go to the Olympics, but when they got boycotted, Hardy turned pro in 1982. But his profession career didn’t last long.
“I damaged my hand and had to end my career at an early age,” Hardy said. “I think I was 23, 24 when that happened.”
When his career ended, Hardy admits he “hated” boxing.
“I walked away for about 10 years, I didn’t want to see boxing, didn’t even know who boxing was,” he said.
But, about 18 years ago, when he saw how some local boxers were being trained, Hardy decided to get back in the ring. This time, as a coach.
“That’s the best thing that ever happened to me in my life is coming in here watching these kids,” he said.
In the 18 years since Hardy made the transition from competitor to coach, 35 teenagers have become homicide victims in the city.
Antelmo Slalinas, 20, could have been one of them.
“I would get in trouble if I wouldn’t be in boxing,” Slalinas said. “I would probably be in jail or killed.”
Six years ago, Slalinas was boxing, but with no coach. As he puts it, “they just threw” him “in there.”
“I got beat up,” he recalled.
But, when Hardy saw Slalinas’ potential, he took him under his wing.
“He told me, 'I can make you a champ,'” Slalinas said.
In a matter of three months, he was beating up on the guys who once beat up on him. In a matter of years, Hardy says Slalinas earned himself a Junior Olympic National Title.
“It changed my life,” Slalinas said. “I used to be a bad kid when I was little.”
Hardy estimates he’s trained thousands of local youth in his 18 years at the community center.
“Seeing him come from being bad to good, I know I was once him. See, boxing saved me that way,” Hardy said. “I was in the street, I loved to fight. I’m being honest, I did. I would fight on the drop of a dime.”
Right now, Hardy says he has about 20 people he’s currently training. Although most are in their teens, he says he’s happy to train anyone from ages 8 to 80.
“Everybody [isn’t going to] be the champ of the world, everybody [isn’t going to] make it,” he said. “But everybody can be respectable.”
If you want to get involved, or know someone who might, contact the 14th Street Community Center at (336) 727-2891.