Success is what drives Earnest Smith to work every day, not for himself, but success for the boxing students he trains at Penn Park Youth Center in Waxahachie.

Known only to his students as “Big E,” the former professional boxer works alongside his wife, Debbie, building character, self-worth and confidence in his students.

“We started in the back yard of our house – and it spread by word of mouth and with the flyers that were posted. We always want to focus on God when we train or step into the ring. Our motto is, ‘He died for us, so we fight for him,’ ” Earnest Smith said.

“This program has given everything back to me. If I would have had something like this growing up I could have avoided some of the different roads that I took and I took some bad roads,” he said. “I see these boys and I bring them in and help them along the way. Boxing, like with anything, you have to be dedicated to it by putting your heart and soul into it to succeed.”

Rock Solid Boxing has been in a number of locations through the years, with each move prompted by an increase of students. After meeting with the Waxahachie City Council earlier in the year, the group was awarded the use of Penn Park Youth Center as its new home.

“When we first moved into the building, it needed a lot of care. The ceiling was falling in, the windows were broken out and there were circus clowns painted on the wall. Today, it looks like the Taj Mahal,” Debbie Smith said.

The program has about 25 boxers, ranging in age from 8 to 34 years old.

“Everybody that has been a part of this program has been really successful. One of the boxers, Ray, we call ‘Slim.’ He is a two-time Golden Gloves winner and has a tournament of champions belt,” she said.

The boxing program is sanctioned through USA Olympics and the boxers wear full safety gear while training and competing. While the goal of the program is to build character and motivate his students and Earnest Smith emphasizes that no boxer is forced to go into a fight before he or she feels ready to do so.

“The biggest change for me has been the physical, because I was kind of flabby before and the training is a big part of that. What boxing has taught me is to protect yourself and fight when you have to fight,” said Dezarius Jackson, a participant in the program.

“The biggest part of boxing is the endurance that you have to have to make it all the way through. If you don’t have that you are not going to last,” he said.

The program is free for the students. Sponsors are sought to pay for the required safety gear, background check and physicals. Any contributions are tax-deductible.

“To get a person in a condition to fight takes around six months to a year. But they have to tell me when they are ready to compete. If the person has a lot of natural ability the process might go quicker,” Smith said.

“In the beginning, you need to focus on your footwork and how to hold your hands,” he said. “The footwork and the hands both go together and the have to move together. If you can’t do that, you won’t have any power. It helps them to get their confidence up.”

Once boxers are ready to compete, the fights are structured differently than a professional fight. Each round typically lasts from 1 to 1-1/2 minutes, with a maximum of three minutes. Each fight has a minimum of three rounds and full safety gear is worn.

Physicals are given before a fighter enters the ring, with a second physical given after the fight is over before the fighter can see a coach. Everyone involved in the program, from the officials to the doctors, has undergone a background check.

“I have been a part of Rock Solid for about a month, but I am really dedicated to it. I come every day and work hard from the time I get here to the time I leave. I drive all the way from Red Oak each day to come here,” boxer Jimmy Green said.

“To be honest I want to go all the way to the top and become the heavyweight champion of the world,” he said. “Big E tells us that we need to be positive and to take God with us wherever we go and bring him with you in everything that you do.

“It is important to have God with you because you can fall victim of these streets,” he said. “When you do positive things, positive things are going to happen.”

For more information on Rock Solid Boxing, contact Earnest Smith at 972-825-2234.

E-mail Andrew at Andrew.branca@wninews.com