Booker T. students get visit from ex-boxer James “Bonecrusher” Smith as part of leadership program

Former heavyweight boxing champion James “Bonecrusher” Smith was at Booker T. Washington High on Thursday.

He was there to speak to students as part of the Stay In School-Career Awareness Program presented by the Sports Inside and Out (SIO), Legends of Sports. The program was created to push youth to become successful leaders in our communities, and it was facilitated by SIO and sponsored by the United States Army.

Booker T. Washington was part of a national tour that also included a visit to Norview High on Friday.

“I sat in on an event when I was younger, and it made an impression on me,” said Smith, who held the World Boxing Association heavyweight title from 1986-87. “I got to spend some time with Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. Anytime you get a chance to spend time as a young person with legends, it’s a big deal.”

The event was hosted by Charlie Hatcher, the executive producer and host of Sports Inside and Out — Legends of Sports Show. Hatcher starred for Norview and was the first Black high school player to be named the “Most Outstanding Basketball Player” in Norfolk.

“This is the kickoff of the national tour of the Legends of Sports,” Hatcher said. “With what we’re doing, we want to make sure we give [students] every opportunity to succeed.”

Another guest was former quarterback Johnnie Walton. He starred for Elizabeth City State University and played for the Philadelphia Eagles, appearing in 15 games over four seasons.

“It’s an honor to be here,” he said. “I just want to do anything that’s going to help our youth and follow a path that’s going to lead them to a career. It’s very important. Hopefully someone will receive something.”

Smith, who boxed from 1981-99, said events like this are crucial in inspiring youth.

Students got a chance to hear many stories from Smith, including how he got his famous nickname.

“I punched hard,” he said, “and they started calling me Bonecrusher and it stuck.”

He, along with Hatcher and Walton, hope students got something out of the event.

“I hope they make good decisions,” said Smith, who wrote a book called “M.A.D.: Make a Decision.” “You have to make good decisions because the decisions you make today could make a good deal or bad deal for you, depending on your decision.”

Larry Rubama, 757-575-6449, Follow @LHRubama on Twitter.