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Primed For Combat Paratrooper Anthony Hembrick, a tough 165-pounder from Detroit, will spearhead the U.S. boxing team

Sept. 14, 1988
Sept. 14, 1988

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Sept. 14, 1988

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Fencing
Medal Picks

Primed For Combat Paratrooper Anthony Hembrick, a tough 165-pounder from Detroit, will spearhead the U.S. boxing team

FROM ALEXANDER TO ALI, GREAT warriors with great charisma have
reshaped their worlds. But even they were once kids. Can Anthony
Hembrick be such a person? Hembrick has charisma bone deep; this is
about all we can know right now. He comes bounding into the ring with
a magnetic smile that threatens to fly right off his face. He's
dancing, stopping, sticking and popping, with American flags jutting
jauntily from the tops of his boxing shoes.
Specialist 4 Anthony (Hollywood) Hembrick, U.S. Army, 82nd
Airborne, is the 165-pound representative of the U.S. Olympic boxing
team (he was unopposed in the Box-off that decided the U.S. team),
one of three Army men on the 12-man squad. ''I understand people have
had words,'' Hembrick says, head cocked, smile flashing, his shrill
tenor voice ringing four alarms. He is about to step into the ring
for his workout at the Uptown YMCA in Charlotte, N.C. ''They say our
team will be lucky to win three gold medals at max. I say the rest of
the world will be lucky if we don't win nine gold medals at worst!''

This is an article from the Sept. 14, 1988 issue

Here stands a 22-year-old warrior, the kind of man other men will
follow in battle. Hembrick begins to spar, and his workout is
transformed into a celebration. That voice carries through the hall.
Heads turn. Yet one cannot command the attention of other boxers on a
voice, a smile and a cute nickname. Hembrick can also fight. He is
132-13 as an amateur and had already fought 70 times before his
brother Timothy, who got him into boxing, urged him to enlist in the
Army at 19.
Tim and Anthony left their mother's house on the northeast side of
Detroit and walked over to a recruiting office. Tim, two years older
than Anthony, was rejected because of bunions. Anthony was accepted.
''The physical part of boot camp was no problem,'' Hembrick says. But
the broken fibula he suffered on his third drop in jump school at
Fort Benning, Ga., was. ''If you can't make five, you're out,'' he
says. He made two more, then mentioned his leg injury.
''Tim made me tough,'' says Hembrick. Tim is a pro cruiserweight
with a record of 15-7-2. ''It used to make me feel good,'' says
Hembrick, ''to walk down the street with him and hear the boys say,
'Whatup, Tim.' I wanted to be like my big brother. We used to run
five miles to Johnson's Rec, work out, then run home. He'd holler,
'I'm not going to wait for you!' Soon he didn't have to. By the time
I got to high school, the boys were saying, 'Whatup, Anthony.' So
boot camp, as far as the physical goes, was no problem.''
Other aspects of the Army were not entirely congenial, to say the
least. Even though he has made 34 jumps, Hembrick's hands still sweat
when the troop transport plane approaches the drop zone. ''You sit
there thinking, 'I don't want to die' ,'' says Hembrick. ''The
physical part was a piece of cake, but the rest of it I almost
couldn't take. . . . How to do this, hollering at you. I called my
father. He had been in the Army. In Vietnam. He said, 'What's on
those streets for you?' I called mother. She said the same.''
So Hollywood Hembrick stayed, and he has brought honor to the U.S.
Army as a boxer. He has been the All-Army champion three times and
the Armed Forces champion twice. In fact, last year the Army won 10
of 12 Armed Forces titles. One was won by an Air Force boxer, one by
the Navy. The Marines were shut out. Hank Johnson, Hembrick's Army
coach and the assistant Olympic coach, flatly states, ''There is
nothing Hembrick can't do in boxing, when he's right. . . . No one in
Seoul will beat him. He just needs somebody to believe in him.''
Detroit can make fighters of the most humble men. So it is for
Anthony, the second of Felix and Barbara Hembrick's four children.
They moved to Detroit from West Virginia when Anthony was six months
old. Now, after Hembrick arrives home from the North Carolina
training camp, a makeshift sign welcomes him. He sits on his mother's
front porch, next to Tim, as they laugh and talk about the days when
the house was more full, back when Anthony was a kid called Coot. ''I
was a happy kid,'' he says.
''Yeah, Coot was something,'' Tim says, slapping his brother on
the back. ''He used to cry just because I wore some of his clothes.
To tell the truth, at one time I thought he was going to turn out to
be a wimp. That's why I took him to box.''
Anthony's brother and mother then begin to play a game called
''Remember when Coot. . . .''
''Hey, Ma,'' says Tim, ''remember when we swam in the Detroit
River and Coot wanted to touch bottom? He almost drowned. I got him
up and he started crying. He said, 'I just wanted to be like the rest
of the guys, Tim.' ''
''I remember when they used to pay Coot to flip and tumble,'' says
Barbara.
''Right off this porch sometimes,'' says Tim. ''Once he missed and
landed on his back. Said he was O.K. Then he went to the bathroom and
said, 'Tim, can you do this?' He was urinating blood.''
''I remember when you fell off the house, Tim,'' says Barbara,
''and knocked yourself out. Coot put you in his wagon, carried you
into the garage, covered you in newspapers and waited there with you
until I got home. He cried then.''
The game changes abruptly as Barbara says, ''Remember when Damon.
. . .''
Anthony gets up and walks into the small house. Damon was his
younger brother, his responsibility, just as he had been Tim's once.
The one he could talk to and the one who made him laugh. Damon was
murdered when he was working the night shift at a McDonald's
restaurant only a mile from the family house. In April 1986, thugs
robbed him, stabbed him and threw his body into the street. Damon was
18 years old.
''It hit Coot hard,'' says Barbara. ''The worst part is that they
never found who did it. God only wants the good ones. I worry about
Anthony and Timothy. They've gotten so close. If something were to
happen to one of them, I don't know if the other one could handle
it.''
Anthony was fighting in the world championships in Reno when Damon
was killed. Hank Johnson broke the news. ''Before the words were out,
the tears were flowing,'' says Johnson. ''No way to soften it for
him. He seemed to handle it well after that. Some people seem to
handle it better if they don't talk about it.''
Anthony has since helped Tim move into a trailer in Spring Lake,
N.C., where Tim lives, works and trains, a few miles from Fort Bragg,
where Hembrick is stationed and the Olympic team recently trained.
''I told him he would get better than Darin Allen ((the 1986 world
champion whom Hembrick defeated in the Olympic trials)), better than
anybody if he wanted to,'' says Glenn Wilson, the man who coached
both Tim and Anthony at the Johnson Center in East Detroit. ''He
always was better, but he never liked boxing much.''
Anthony is punching the heavy bag at the Johnson Rec right now,
just for old times' sake. A combination is called out to him. Left
hook head, right hand feint, left hook head, right cross jaw. It is a
difficult combination to master. Anthony whips through it easily, in
a second.
''Hembrick is a heavyweight waiting to happen,'' Hank Johnson has
said. ''He walks around now at 180, at least. It's agony for him to
get down to 165. He's 6 ft. 2 in.. He could put on two more inches
of chest, another two on the arms. . . .''
''When I'm in there, I pray in the corner before every fight,''
says Hembrick. ''Something was taken from me. So I ask for my
strength and Damon's strength, too.''
Now he is punching the air murderously with his right. ''My
father!'' he calls out. His father and mother broke up when he was
four years old. ''Darin Allen!'' he calls out. He can call out no
names for Damon's sake. He merely punches harder.
The Olympics are here. Anthony Hembrick is the U.S. boxing
representative at 165 pounds. This is all we can know right now. In
five years, when he is told that he must move up from light
heavyweight to face reality and Mike Tyson, to try to reshape the
boxing world, Anthony should be recalled as he is now. He was once
just a kid.