Story by Chuck Cannon on 09/13/2019FORT POLK, La. What a difference a year can make.
In July 2018, Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Cereceres and former All-Army boxer and current Vernon Parish Deputy Sheriff Sidney Russell, were doing their best to get a thriving boxing club started for Soldiers, Family members and local civilians in the Leesville/Fort Polk area.
Ground Zero Gym, located near Fort Polk on U.S. Hwy 171, was their base of operation and the duo had one primary member Staff Sgt. Mike Ruffin, who along with Cereceres was assigned to Joint Readiness Training Center Operations Group Task Force 4. Cereceres' and Russell's goal was to help Ruffin earn a spot on the All-Army boxing team and increase the numbers of the local group.
A year later, Ground Zero boasts a bustling band of boxers, including kids, Soldiers, area law enforcement officers and Family members. There is even an airman assigned to Fort Polk on the team. More than 30 pugilists call Ground Zero home.
"We've had exceptional growth during the past year," Russell said, between barking assignments and encouragement to his boxers. "We have a great group of boxers who are focused and want to excel."
Russell said the team counts 15 Soldiers among its team members, as well as children and Family members of Soldiers.
"I was surprised we grew as fast as we did," Russell said. "We've got some motivated Soldiers who have joined and we're excited about our team."
Russell said he hopes some of his Soldiers will pursue a spot on the All-Army boxing team. For now, they hone their skills by fighting in matches throughout Louisiana and Southwest Texas, as well as Golden Gloves competitions.
The boxers have had a lot of success, Russell said, and have captured several trophies and championship belts.
One of the teammembers, Airman 1st Class Josh Shank, is one of the team's more powerful boxers.
"He doesn't look intimidating, but he's an animal," Russell said.
Shank said boxing is a great way to get rid of pent up energy.
"It also helps me stay in shape," he said. "I had done a little martial arts training but this seemed like something I would enjoy more."
Shank has a 4-0 record and said he is thinking about making boxing a career option.
"I'm going to work hard and try to go a far as I can with it, maybe pro," he said.
Cereceres' daughter, Anelisse Cereceres, 17, is another of the team's top boxers. She said she loves getting in the ring and mixing it up with other boxers.
"I got into it because of my dad," she said. "I want to become a world champion. I like winning awards and working hard. I hope to turn pro eventually."
Cereceres said probably the most talented boxer and one who continues to improve is Pfc. Myracle Salinas, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.
The 20-year-old from Savannah, Georgia said he joined the Army to improve his boxing skills.
"When I was little, all I did was draw and I wanted to learn to do something that would get me out of the house," he said. "I met a guy who was into mixed martial arts and he got me interested."
Salinas said he wasn't very good at first, but he soon learned to love MMA, so much so that he harbors hopes of one day fighting in Ultimate Fighting Championship or UFC.
"I joined the Army so I could learn boxing to help my striking skills for UFC," he said.
"That's my goal and this club is going to help me reach that goal."
Cereceres said the club is open to anyone who wants to try their hand at boxing. He said there is only one requirement: Hard physical work.
"Before we get in the ring each day we hit the road and work out," he said. "We only want those who are serious about learning how to box and become good boxers."
To find out more about the Leesville Boxing Team stop by Ground Zero Gym after 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and pay Cereceres or Russell a visit. They'll let you know what it takes to become a talented boxer.