When the 10th annual Chattanooga Guns and Hoses — aka the Battle of the Badges — begins at 7:30 Friday night at the Chattanooga Convention Center, fireman Keith Liles will be making his 10th appearance in the heavyweight division.
"I fight 175-180 (pounds)," said the captain of Brainerd's Squad 13. "It's heavyweight, but on the light end. Some of my matches have panned out better than others."
Last year was one of those that didn't go so well. Matched against Blake Kilpatrick of the Sheriff's Department, Liles said, "He keeps hitting you harder than you hit him."
Yet what this event hits hardest is poverty and despair in this city. The proceeds go to the Forgotten Child Fund and YCAP, a YMCA entity that attempts to save many of Chattanooga's disadvantaged youth through the sport of boxing.
"We raised $50,000 last year," YCAP director Andy Smith said Tuesday. "That money was evenly split between the two programs. We had almost 3,000 people there. The mayor will be there. A lot of civic leaders. It's really become a social event."
Kilpatrick won't fight Liles this year, but he's more than a little excited to be competing in the event for the ninth time.
"In the big scheme of things, it brings not only the community together but emergency services together," said the 33-year-old Kilpatrick, a fugitive-case detective and SWAT team leader. "Plus, it's for such a good cause. It's hard for us to give much money with the salaries we make, but this gives us a chance to give something back to the communities we serve."
Added the 45-year-old Liles: "I guess what I like most about it, other than the charities we help, is the camaraderie. You get really close to some of these people. It's a great event."
Like most of those who'll compete Friday night, neither Kilpatrick nor Liles boxed in his youth. A native of Meigs County, Kilpatrick started playing youth sports in that community when he was 4 years old. He later played strong guard and middle linebacker for the Meigs County Tigers.
Liles split his childhood between Florida and Alabama. He first came to southeastern Tennessee in the early 1990s due to his love of kayaking. He was later a member of the United States freestyle kayak team that competed in the world championships in New Zealand in 1999. He currently plays in an inline hockey league here in town.
"Me personally, I never stop training for it," Liles said of the Battle of the Badges. "It keeps me in shape. I probably don't spar as much as I should, but it's more mental than physical. It's three of the longest one-minute stretches I've ever experienced in my life."
Kilpatrick, who is 6-2 in the event with at least three TKOs and who often fights as a super heavyweight, said of his trek to Guns and Hoses: "I'd been around some gyms, sparred some, but I'd never been involved involved in organized boxing such as Golden Gloves. I'm not much of a trash talker, but if my opponent wants to go that route, that's a good way to fire me up. I'm all business in the ring. I don't see the crowd. I don't hear anything. I try to end it quick."
Both men are quick to embrace the real reasons for the event, which are the charities they serve.
"Most years my wife and I help pack boxes for the Forgotten Child Fund," Liles said. "There are volunteers out there packing boxes for a couple of months before Christmas comes. I've also done the Santa Train one year when we did a special one for the Woodmore Elementary School kids a couple of years ago. It was healing for us, reaching out to those families who lost loved ones, and I hoped it helped them."
Kilpatrick's job often takes him into the neighborhoods that most benefit from both programs.
"I kind of frequent the areas that the Forgotten Child Fund really helps," he said. "It feels good to know that the places we visit benefit from this."
So if you're not doing anything Friday night, tickets are $15 and there's not a bad seat in the house to watch the best of our city's policemen and firemen attempt to master the sweet science of boxing.
"You're either jumping up and down cheering," Liles said, "or rolling on the floor laughing."
Either way, you're sure to bring a big smile to a lot of needy kids come Christmas.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org