Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


June 16, 2001 - Issue 38



Cheyenne River Tribal Member Soars in Academy Boxing Arena


 by Kay Humphrey Indian Country Today Staff

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - A 20-year-old Cheyenne River Sioux tribal member is making his mark as a contender in the ring as a part of the U.S. Air Force Academy team. Clell Knight, who spent his summers on the South Dakota reservation, has a rare chance of joining an elite list of cadets who have distinguished themselves as top-level boxers within the annals of academy history.

The 20-year-old middleweight boxer proved himself as a national collegiate class boxer during his first season as a freshman at the academy.

Knight, the only son of Jennifer Smith of Post, Texas, and South Dakota rodeo champion Jess Knight of Dupree, S.D., entered the academy to become a pilot.

"Ever since I was little, all I could think about was flight and the best place to go was the Air Force Academy," he said.

Boxing became Knight's second passion when he arrived at the academy last fall. The novice, who started with 10 boxing lessons at the academy, won his division of the Wing Open championships qualifying him to represent the military academy in intercollegiate competition. He finished the season with a silver medal in the nationals.

Although this was Knight's first year at boxing, the rookie's build, at 5'11" and 157 pounds, along with a left-handed approach helped him advance against tough competitors at the academy.

Each year nearly 800 cadets sign up for boxing classes at the academy, the first step for any would-be contender, academy head boxing coach Eddie Weichers said. But what set Knight apart from the novice group was his determination to be among the best at the academy.

At least 69 freshmen cadets competed in the Wing Open tournament and 12 winners advanced to represent the academy against Army, Navy and the nation's top colleges, Weichers said.

Knight isn't afraid to take punches and his composure in the ring and his willingness to go the extra mile, including staying after practice to put in extra time in conditioning and studying boxing videos, allowed him to excel.

"You take some and you get some. It's not that bad," he said.

The academy athlete puts in grueling days starting at 6 a.m. While his classes end at 3:30 p.m., his day continues with two to three hours of running, sparring and conditioning. When he is finished with his boxing preparation, he is back in his room studying.

"It's very demanding," he said.

When he isn't preparing for the ring, he is preparing to fulfill that lifelong dream to become a pilot.

Knight grew up in on a ranch in west Texas. He said his grandparents often took him to watch planes taking off and landing at a nearby runway.

His military commitment will span more than a decade to accomplish his goal, he said.

"If you want to fly, it will be about a 14 year commitment."

With the same confidence he shows in the ring, Knight said some of the elements that prepared him for life at the academy were his mother's devotion in pushing him to excel in school and participating in school athletic programs.

"My mom helped me a lot when I was growing up. She always demanded that I have my homework done every night. I was always involved in athletics or some activity."

Knight said his family has supported his interest in boxing. His mother has traveled to matches and his grandmother often asks him for videotapes of his matches so she can watch.

Small class sizes at his school district also helped and academy classes are nearly the same at 15 to 20 students, he said.

Knight admits the academy's rigorous schedule is a little tougher than he expected, but he said he is happy with his choice.

"Time is so precious. I guess I didn't realize I was going to be pressed for time every day. That's probably the toughest part."

Knight will take a month off before resuming his athletic training. During the off-season he will run to keep in shape.

Finishing finals, the cadet said he will spend the summer in survival training and soaring which will allow him his first chance to fly in a glider.

The academy athlete started down his path to the academy by attending a prep school for a year. His interest in the sport peaked while he was there. Weichers said he was one of nearly a dozen young men who demonstrated an interest.

"Clell was one of them. He had a very good attitude and he was very focused young man for being so young," Weichers said.

Knight and his class of cadets took boxing lessons and began competing in intramurals. Later he was matched up in Friday bouts, events that move beginning boxers from one-minute rounds to two-minute rounds. Collegiate boxers fight in two-minute rounds, the coach said.

"He took to that like a duck to water. You could see a lot of potential in his athleticism. He's a pretty solid kid for being just a freshman."

Being a natural left-hander is an immediate advantage for Knight, but he isn't alone. The coach said there are about half a dozen left-handed boxers on the team.

Weichers said Knight has the chance to make history at the academy by becoming one of only 10 cadets who have won four Wing Open championships.

"He one of those guys that leads by example. He made himself a student of the game. He has an unbelievable work ethic. He has courage and intensity. He has all the intangibles that you can't coach," Weichers said.

"I can coach speed and power, but when you talk about character, determination and having a big heart, that's the kind of guy you want flying airplanes defending the country.

"He is the kind of guy who isn't going to crack under pressure. He handled pressure very well. He's calm and collected for such a young person. He is just a joy to be around," he said.

Knight has to live by the same standards as other college athletes concerning maintaining his grade point average to retain his eligibility. Weichers makes certain his athletes hold the line when it comes to grades.

Knight "is a good student," he said.

While waiting for his next season, Knight continues his studies. He has an interest in engineering and is studying Arabic.

When he has free time away from the academy, Knight said he likes to go hunting for wild boars and raccoons, a sport he shared with his grandfather.

Air Force Claims Boxing Championship




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