Al Simpson has trained thousands of boxers during his 39 years as a coach.
He helped guide several Olympic fighters to gold medals, and at least one boxer he once coached as an amateur eventually fought for the world professional heavyweight championship.
Almost exclusively, those former students with such accolades were male.
But on July 11, Simpson received one of the highest honors women’s boxing has to offer. Simpson was honored with a Recognition of Excellence Award at the International Women’s Boxing Hall of Fame 2015 induction ceremony in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
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Simpson has been on the coaching staffs at several prominent women’s boxing events in the last 15 years, most notably the first Women’s World Amateur Boxing Championships in 2001. Simpson was one of two assistant coaches on the U.S. National Team that won four medals out of 12 weight classes at the Scranton, Pa., event.
“I feel real good about (the award),” said Simpson, head coach of Charlotte Boxing Academy at the Revolution Sports Academy. “Everything in women’s boxing has come full circle.”
Simpson, 57, spent 16 of his 24 years in the U.S. Army as a boxing coach. He was the head coach at Fort Bragg when he retired from the military in 1999.
Simpson became head coach of the Charlotte Boxing Academy in 1999. His amateur boxers, most teenagers, compete in Golden Gloves events and other competitions nationwide.
A respected coach for USA Boxing, the sport’s national governing body, Simpson is president of the North Carolina Boxing Association and USA Boxing’s regional coordinator in the southeast.
In 2001, Simpson, who already had served as a trainer for the men’s Olympic teams in 1988 and 1992, was asked to assist head coach Christy Halbert at the Women’s World Amateur Boxing Championships. Halbert helped coach the first U.S. women’s Olympic boxing team in 2012 and was a member of the IWBHF’s first induction class in 2014.
At the 2001 world championships, Simpson helped select the U.S. team, then coached them against boxers from 16 other countries.
Coaching women was a new experience for the veteran coach, he said.
“I saw the dedication they had,” said Simpson. “The women were emerging on the scene. They wanted to show what they could do. It wasn’t an Olympic sport yet. There were only a handful of countries that had female boxers.”
The following year, Simpson was an assistant coach at the women’s national championships at Camp Lejeune,, in which only national team members were invited. Simpson served as a referee at the 2003 national championships in Florida.
Simpson says he’s helped at various other women’s boxing clinics over the last 10 years.
Like many others, he advocated for women’s boxing to become an Olympic sport, which it did in 2012. But instead of having the 12 weight classes that were held at the first world championships, Olympic leaders limited the number to three – a disappointment for advocates like Simpson.
In early July, Simpson fielded a call from USA Boxing in which he was told he was being considered for the award. He drove to Florida alone and received confirmation only a couple days before the Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Among the 2015 Hall of Fame inductees was former undefeated boxing champion Laila Ali, currently a television personality and who is the daughter of boxing legend Muhammad Ali. She presented Simpson with his award.
“He was so excited that the award was being presented to him by Laila Ali,” said Marquisha Clayburn, Revolution Sports Academy manager. “His award is well-deserved. He has impacted boxing tremendously.”
The 2014 Hall of Fame class included Halbert and, among others, Lucia Rijker, another former undefeated champion who played a prominent role in the Oscar-winning film about a female boxer, “Million Dollar Baby.”
Simpson says that among his current students at Charlotte Boxing Academy, he has seven who are female, ages 8-15 years old.
Having that many female boxers would not have been possible without the strides the sport has taken in the last 20 years, he said.
Joe Habina is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.