WARD, Ark. – A town of just over 6,000 is quickly becoming the training ground of champions. 

A small nonprofit boxing gym off 2nd Street in Ward is home to dozens of young athletes with dreams of going for gold. The students of War Gurillaz Boxing – most in middle or high school – workout three days a week for two hours, throwing punches at bags and running sprints around the gym.

It’s a commitment that takes hard work and dedication. But among teens working on a new form of exercise and kids trying out a new hobby lies two national champions, and a collection of boxers soon to get there. 

The most decorated fighter is 15-year-old Zamila Kelley, a teenager from McCrory who is currently ranked number one in the nation for her weight and age class. 

“I came from like not even being able to throw combinations…not being able to get in the ring,” Kelley recalled, who’s now been boxing for 6 years. She’s a contender for future Olympics, is already a part of Team USA, and has done all her training with War Gurillaz and Coach Joe, a boxing trainer who has worked with kids across Central Arkansas for years. Many had been enthusiasts of other sports before lacing up the gloves.

“I used to do flag football,” explained 10-year-old Brandt Harrison, who’s relatively new to the boxing world. 13-year-old Elishua Hernandez added, “[I started] after my swim team closed for the season.” 

Then there’s Rico. Ricardo Resendiz knows a thing or two about what it takes to win, traveling with Kelley and others to championships across the nation. 

“Well, first I started doing MMA, then kickboxing, and then I came here to spar people,” Resendiz said. “I’ve made it to second-best in the U.S., I’m ranked number two.”

But besides championships and a few medals under their belts, Coach Joe and his team are proof that training kids how to throw a punch builds more than just muscle.

“Boxing has taught me how to have self-confidence,” Hernandez grinned. “I gained my self-esteem a lot from it.” Resendiz added, “I want to reach up to become a pro boxer and help my family out.”

The team is always growing, with kids taking a few classes during off-seasons or picking up a new passion. Kelley has advice for those looking to join; take a chance and step into the ring. “Hard work and dedication, all the time, the hours in the gym, the days spent… it will always pay off,” she said. 

War Gurillaz can be reached through “Boxing War Gurillaz” on Facebook, or by emailing WarGurillazAR@gmail.com