Boxing has been Billy Joe Thomas' primary interest most of his life. The former reigning Arkansas heavyweight champion now wants to use his expertise from his favorite sport to help keep some young men off the streets.

Thomas has opened a boxing club on Cherry Street in historic downtown Helena. The former Grounds bookstore now houses a boxing ring, exercise bike and punching bags.

Boxing has been Billy Joe Thomas' primary interest most of his life. The former reigning Arkansas heavyweight champion now wants to use his expertise from his favorite sport to help keep some young men off the streets.

Thomas has opened a boxing club on Cherry Street in historic downtown Helena. The former Grounds bookstore now houses a boxing ring, exercise bike and punching bags.

Several years ago, Thomas organized what he referred to as the “Rumble in Rondo,” in which several amateur boxers got together for an evening of boxing entertainment in the tiny Lee County community.

“I thought it was going to be a disaster,” recalled Thomas. “It rained heavily that morning. Still between 35 and 40 people showed up for the event.

According to Thomas, his primary sponsor for the new boxing club is Dr. Thomas Bailey.

“Dr. Bailey suggested starting the boxing club and helped me locate this building,” commented Thomas. “He asked me, 'What can I do to help the program? What do you need?' And I told him a portable boxing ring, lumber canopy, rope, boxing gloves and punching bags to get started.”

Thomas noted that the old bookstore needed a lot of work to eventually convert it to an operational gymnasium. He also added that he was in need of more equipment.

His first planned venture is a boxing night scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 9 at the Helena Boys & Girls Club (the old Helena Armory), starting at 3 p.m. The card, he said, will feature seven matches – five boys and two girls. T.J. Sloan of Helena-West Helena is bringing some of the boxers. In addition to the local fighters, Michael Gruder of Forrest City is bringing some from Memphis and Marianna.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children.

In the meantime, Thomas is helping train the local pugilists. He puts them through a rigid exercise regiment that includes jumping rope, road work (running), pounding the heavy bag (punching bag).

“Some lift weights,” he said, “and we get in some sparring during the workouts.”

Thomas is still looking to the community for some help.

“I need funds to fix the building and put into more equipment,” he reported. “We need all kinds of equipment and any kind of donation including mops and buckets. Right now, everything is coming out of my pocket.”

Thomas says B.J.'s Boxing Club is open to all ages – from five to 45.

“It is open to anyone who feels he or she is physically fit to box,” he commented.

Basically, Thomas said he started the boxing club to give youngsters a chance.

“I don't want them to make some of the same mistakes that I made,” he concluded.

Meanwhile, Thomas is hoping for a good turnout for an afternoon and evening of boxing on Sept. 9.