Saturday night at the First Tennessee Pavilion in Chattanooga, hometown hero Ryan Martin earned a second consecutive trip to the USA Boxing open national tournament at Colorado Springs. He's 18 and ready for his senior year at Central High School.
Emily Dagnan, another area 12th-grader, also won for Chattanooga's Westside Boxing Club. The Sequatchie County softball standout defeated a Huntsville opponent to earn a trip to Colorado.
Memphis resident Javonta Charles, a superheavyweight who came to Chattanooga for Westside's intense training camp in preparation for the Region 4 Box-Off, already had his spot in the nationals secured but fought a tuneup bout and won. He and Martin, who was declared the "best boxer" of the regional between Southeastern and Southern district champions, can earn spots in the U.S. Olympic Trials in early August in Mobile, Ala., by reaching the national semifinals two weeks from now.
Kiwon Toney from Westside opened Saturday's event with a 65-pound victory in a nonqualifying bout.
The only Westside representative who didn't win was 123-pound Roger Hilley, a 17-year-old student at Sequoyah High School in Soddy-Daisy, and he still has a shot at an Olympic Trials berth if he can win a "last chance" tournament next month in Cincinnati. In each of the 10 men's weight classes, the eight Trials qualifiers will include the National PAL, Armed Services and last-chance tournament winners and four from the nationals in Colorado.
Hilley lost a decision to a 22-year-old from Lafayette, La. - Keithlen Franklin - after losing nine pounds in three days to make weight. The last two pounds came off Saturday, and Hilley's legs clearly were giving way by late in the second round.
"I give him his props," Hilley said of the more experienced Franklin, "but I felt I could've come out with a win if I was at the top of my conditioning. My legs were weak from running and sitting in the sauna, but I don't want to use that as an excuse."
Westside coach Andy Smith said Hilley should've done a better job of monitoring his weight, "and I take partial ownership in that. He's in shape - that's not the issue - but he had absolutely no legs under him, and that was just from getting those last pounds off. But 123 is where he needs to be."
Martin, meanwhile, is fighting at 141 after going to the nationals at 132 last year, soon after he won a 19-under open tournament in Cincinnati. He previously earned eight national junior titles.
"I feel way better than last year," he said about the Colorado event. "I'm bigger, stronger, faster and more focused."
He praised the tenacity of Saturday's opponent, Devon Adams of Larose, La.
"He's a scrapper. He came forward a lot. He took my punches," Martin said. "That boy's tough. It was a good fight for me."
Smith said that typifies Martin's attitude.
"He is just a class kid who always has the same outlook on everything," Smith said. "He's confident but always looking for ways to improve, and he never gets upset in a boxing match when he's facing adversity. Instead, he makes adjustments."
Charles, Smith said, is 28 but "hasn't been boxing very long, like three years. He's got a lot of raw talent but not the ring savvy yet."
The Olympic process is different for the females than for the guys, with only three weight classes planned for the Games debut, but Dagnan will go to the women's world championships this fall if she wins the nationals. She finished third at 125 pounds in the National Junior Olympics last year in North Carolina.
"All our hard work in the training camp paid off," Smith said, "and these are all great kids and fun to work with. We'll go out there and give it our best shot."