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Tinker All Services boxing soars in fifth year on base

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Lavell Sims stepped into the boxing ring hesitantly, eyeing his formidable opponent with a palpable apprehension. It was 1993 at Fort Campbell, Ky., and Sims, a 21-year-old rookie, was facing the Kentucky Golden Glove champion in his first major fight.

The outcome was less than victorious for the young Army enlisted man, but would prove pivotal for Sims' career inside the ring.

"I was a rookie and coach put me in there and it was so funny. This dude hit me and I saw the punches coming and I didn't move. He hit me and I was so out of it," Sims said. "My coach, who was the referee, looks at me and tells me 'I'm not going to stop this fight. You better get in there and fight.' I'm like 'coach you don't see my eyes like this.' But he just kept me in there and I went the distance."

And for the Tinker All Services Boxing Team, going the distance is what it's all about.

Four years ago Sims started coaching the Tinker team. Although an Army man at heart and current Army recruiter, the storied boxer has put his previous years of experience to work for the Tinker sporting community.

Sims is not a complicated coach. Starting with four boxers in 2004, the team now boasts 12 men and three women. And his philosophy hasn't changed.

"You only get what you put into something. And if you put nothing into nothing you get nothing," Sims said. "I just tell them whatever they start to finish. The biggest things, my biggest pet peeves, are motivation and respect. I ask them to give it all. Give me 110 percent. If they give 110 they're going to get it from me."

And after observing just one practice, you realize the 37-year-old coach has his boxers' respect. It's his professionalism and motivation, prodding each fighter toward the next level, never content with a plateau.

But Sims has another ace in his coaching deck. One that is readily apparent from the start.

"He's a big guy. I wouldn't want to fight him," boxer Luke Nelson said with a laugh, about his 6' 4", 230 pound coach. "That's pretty much it. He looks pretty scary when you first meet him." Although getting his start as a basketball player in college and playing semi-professional football briefly, it was the allure of the ring that captured Sims' attention.

He fought heavyweight throughout his boxing tenure, with his first major victory in Korea when he claimed the 8th Army Championship. This feat earned him a place on the All Army Boxing Team and Army World Class Athlete Program.

In 2000, Sims traveled to Sydney as a backup for the Olympic boxing team. He was ranked as high as No. 3 in the nation in the USA Boxing league and entered the ring in several professional fights during his peak.

"I can say the Army's been good to me. I have a lot of background in boxing," Sims said. "I just love the aggression, I'm a very physical person."

Sims got his coaching start at Fort Lewis, Wash., in 1998 where he managed a co-ed team. From 2001 to 2004 he coached the All Army Women's Boxing Team and Army World Class Athlete team in Colorado Springs. He led his female fighters to three titles as they swept the All Army and All Armed Forces championships each year he was at the coaching helm.

Sims expertise continues in Oklahoma City, and the Tinker team is gaining momentum.

"Coach Sims is a great coach," said Nelson, who's been with the team about a year. "He can be tough but that's a good thing. I really like him because he's dedicated to us because he spends a lot of time with us. He pushes us hard."

On Oct. 3, Sims' crew earned the Best Team award at a USA Boxing match in Okemah, Okla. Nelson, along with three other Tinker fighters came home with wins. But more than that it was a watershed moment for the team. The bar was raised. There's nowhere to go but up in Sims' mind.

"My goal is to continue to do like we did the other night," Sims said. "Get the Best Team trophy in the civilian sector and get a couple more guys to the All Army, All Navy, All Air Force team and make this a feeder program. Get these guys on this level and let them try out for the All Armed Services Team and maybe make it to that national level."

The team jumped in size this month, as Sims took over as the head coach of the Fort Sill, Okla., boxing team. Seven Army boxers will train with the Tinker team and compete jointly as the Tinker All Services Boxing Team. Sims has nothing but positive things to say about the merger and sees the team becoming stronger because of it.

And the team's potential has never been more promising. With a recent budget infusion from Tinker, a new ring, new equipment, and workout facilities is what the team needed to ensure their opponents fall down and stay down.

Sims lauded the efforts of his assistant coaches and 72nd Air Base Wing Commander Col. Allen Jamerson, 72nd ABW Command Chief Master Sgt. Eric Harmon, Steve Thomasson and Pat Griffin, whose support is invaluable to the program.

"They've been trying to do this for years so I feel blessed and privileged that I've been able to do this," Sims said.

He also mentioned other crucial members of the team: His wife, Ranada, and their four kids. "If it wasn't for (my wife) I wouldn't be doing this," Sims said. "I have a great supporting family. My wife is with me she's one of my biggest fans. Every fight, every practice she's there with us. I'd like to give a big kudos to her for supporting me."

Sims recognizes his players make everything happen.

"Without fighters it wouldn't go anywhere," he said. "I give the utmost respect to the fighters because they're the ones who have to get in that ring and fight."

And in the end it's about pushing the limits. It's about finding out who you are when you enter the ropes, when you size up your opponent and hear the telltale jingle to launch the match. That's where you learn who you are.

"I have goals for you guys," Sims said to his boxers at a recent practice. "Not for me, I've been there, I've done that. I don't know what you guys' long term goals are but I'm sure you have goals to say 'I'm not just going through the motions. I want to make it as far as my body will take me physically and mentally.'"

And the results are proven. You get what you put into it.

"Boxing is very disciplined and it takes a strong minded person to get through this," Sims said. "If they can make it through boxing I tell (the boxers) they can make it through anything. What I try to instill in these guys when they leave is that if you can make it through my workout you can make it through anything in life."

Several months after Sims' 1993 loss to the Kentucky Golden Glove champion he entered the ring with the bruiser once again. But this time was different. Sims went the distance. He came away with victory.

"Needless to say, seven months later I met the same guy and ... I knocked him out in the second round and I was so happy," Sims said. "That's a fight that I will have to say is very memorable. I always made it a memo to myself that whoever I lost to I wanted to come back and beat them. I pretty much did that in my career." 

The Tinker boxing team will fight Nov. 7 in Tulsa and host an upcoming home bout in Oklahoma City Nov. 21. The Tinker team is always looking for new boxers and assistant coaches. No experience is necessary. Contact Coach Sims at 816-1013 for more information.