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SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – The 2020 USA Boxing National Championship has kicked off in Shreveport after it was postponed in December due to the surging COVID-19 pandemic.

The event will take place at the Shreveport Convention Center over the next ten days, drawing more than 2,500 athletes, coaches, and their families. It is expected to bring $5.2 million in direct economic impact to the area as they stay in local hotels, shop, eat, and go to the casinos, according to the Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission.

During a news conference Thursday morning, organizers and partners talked about the historic significance of the event to the sport itself and as a first in a post-pandemic world. They also spoke of the importance to the athletes’ Olympic aspirations and what measures are in place to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.

“466 days we haven’t had a national event for USA Boxing. Today, we’re back to boxing,” USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee said to applause, adding, “The largest boxing event in the history of USA Boxing is going to be here in Shreveport with the fewest amount of people in the building at any one time.”

With the new dates, the tournament added three extra days of competition. The added days will allow for a soft start, giving boxers, coaches, officials, and staff an opportunity to adjust to COVID-19 mitigation procedures.

According to USA Boxing, the extra months allowed by the postponement of the event allowed time to develop their “Back to Boxing” training and competition protocols in collaboration with the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee’s (USOPC) Sports Medicine Department, USA Boxing’s Medical Advisory Board, and the Louisiana State University’s School of Sports Medicine.

“We knew that there weren’t going to be a lot of spectators, but still 1,400-plus athletes coming with all their coaches, this potentially had the possibility of having a super spreader event,” Dr. Shane Barton, chair of orthopedic surgery at LSU Health Shreveport, said of the decision to postpone the event as cases surged in December.

“We had to make a decision, ‘Can we do this in the spring?’ And there was no way to predict. We did not know that we would see these numbers going down, we could only look at data. I mean, this is a first-time event for us, for the world, really, like this, with travel like it is. And we made a bet. And right now, with looking at how safe we really wanted this event to be, we’re feeling really good about where we are.”

LSU Health Shreveport is also working with USA Boxing to provide pre and post-bout physicals for the boxers and the LSUHS Center for Emerging Viral Threats is handing COVID-19 testing for the event.

Early check-ins began Thursday and will continue Friday, with official check-in starting Saturday, but competition begins on Friday for select divisions. In addition to staggered check-in days, there will be no general weigh-in and this will be an open tournament with a minimum bout requirement.

The sessions will also be live-streamed on the USA Boxing website.

The sole USA Boxing tournament in 2020, this year’s National Championships will feature 1,000 bouts as boxers compete in Olympic/International Federation weight divisions in junior, youth, and elite age groups for their place on Team USA’s High-Performance teams.

“This tournament here is the first step in getting our boxers ready for Paris 2024,” said McAtee, who also said that because USA Boxing teams are among the youngest among national Olympic-style boxing organizations, potential Olympians for Los Angeles 2028 will also be there.

Olympian boxer and Bossier native Tim Dement also spoke at Thursday’s kickoff event, growing emotional at times when talking about the importance of a national event to the trajectory of a boxer’s career.

“The significance of having this national event is unimaginable to the boxer because your life will go in one direction or another after a national event,” Dement said. “There will be some people that probably will drop out of boxing because they’ve competed and done the best they can and they learn that, in their life, it’s time to go on. But there will be young people that are competing for the first time, and the whole world will wake up to ’em.”

For Dement, it was the nationals in New Orleans in 1971, where at the age of 16 he fought adults. In that tournament, he fought four times in three days and ultimately lost in the finals. But his impressive showing there set him on a path to travel the world as an amateur boxer and compete in the flyweight class in the 1972 Summer Olympics at the age of 17.

“These young people are developing and when you invest in young people, you’re spending a nickel and a dime and there’s no better investment you can make.”

With capacity restrictions still in place, spectators will be limited, if allowed at all. Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission Executive Director Kelly Wells says local restaurants have agreed to live stream the bouts so that family and fellow athletes can still be a part of the action and cheer on their boxers while supporting local businesses. A full list of live stream locations can be found on the Shreveport Bossier Sports Commission website.

The event was originally slated to take place in Lake Charles in October 2020. It was moved to Shreveport and pushed back to December after Hurricane Laura left the Lake Charles Civic Center “inhospitable” to host the national championships.

Click here for more information on the USA Boxing Championships.