Since 1986, the Jackson-Madison Country Sports Hall of Fame has been honoring the best athletes and coaches from Madison County. This year, the The Board of Directors created the Lifetime Achievement Award to honor an influential figure in the area, who has dedicated their lives to playing and coaching sports. This is the only one awarded in 30 years of this Hall’s existence.
Due to his unprecedented career as a boxing coach, the Jackson-Madison County Sports Hall of Fame Board of Directors recognizes Rayford Collins as the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.
Born in Medon in 1938, Collins was introduced to boxing in a sandlot behind a local grocery store. He had his first fight there in 1955 at the age of 16. Two years later, after training at the Bemis YMCA, he and a few friends entered the Golden Gloves boxing tournament in Jackson. Collins was the only one from Bemis to bring home a trophy that year. He continued to box, making it to the Golden Gloves National Championship in 1964, where he eventually lost to undefeated amateur Harley Cooper.
Collins soon found his calling was outside the ring as a coach and mentor. He took over the Jackson Boxing Club in 1965 when the Jackson Parks and Recreation Department started a year-round program under Mayor George Smith.
Fifty-five years later, Collins retired at the age of 76. He has turned the coaching responsibilities at the Jackson Boxing Club over to Woodrow Warren, who was Collins’ assistant the past two seasons.
Although age and health issues now limit him, Collins can look back on a career in which he took young men to the peaks of amateur boxing. During his time as coach for the Jackson Boxing Club, Collins led his boxers to dozens of championships, received many awards for his coaching accomplishments, and was selected to chair multiple boxing associations. He was also inducted into the Jackson-Madison County Sports Hall of Fame in 1989.
The decision to retire was painful. Collins struggles to reflect on his boxing life without becoming overwhelmed by emotion. But he takes solace in knowing he has been a positive influence on hundreds of young men through the Jackson Boxing Club. The respect he earned as a tough, but loving, disciplinarian endures today with men he molded from boys decades ago.
Contributions by Josh Lemons, The Jackson Sun