By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Wyoming East’s Hope McNeely grew up around the ring. Her dad, Butch, is a famed boxing trainer and referee in the area, and also a former Golen Gloves and Toughman champion.
Her brother Ashley? The first from West Virginia to go to the Golden Glove Nationals. So what did Butch say when his young daughter told him she wanted to fight?
“Well, she didn’t really tell me.” Butch McNeely said.
Hope, a senior at Wyoming East High School, devotes much of her time to other activities. She’s a member of Theatre West Virginia and also dances and plays soccer. In fact, she’s not a fan of fighting.
“I’ve never really boxed or fought before,” Hope said. “I don’t like fighting at all. I’ve watched my dad and brother train people and watched the fights. I hate fighting though.
“I’m all about peace and just... leave me alone. I hate the drama. If someone wants to fight me, I don’t want to. People could not see me doing it at all.”
Did Hope ever see herself boxing, though?
“I always said I would wait until I turned 18 to do it. I waited years and years to do it.”
She did just that.
Hope turned 18 on Sept. 29. Shortly after, she signed up for January’s Rough N’ Rowdy Brawl in Beckley.
“For the five months leading up to the fight, I was getting excited,” Hope said. “Those five months people were giving me heck about fighting, and it just motivated me more.”
So did Hope go to her father Butch’s wealth of knowledge on the sport in preperation?
“I had no idea she was fighting,” Butch said with a laugh. “She told me six days before she was fighting. She was wanting to do it on her own. We had five days to work on technique. She must have done it all through osmosis. She’s been to a thousand fights in her life, but she’s never trained at all.”
That didn’t stop the Warrior spirit of Hope McNeely.
After winning her first fight by knockout, she went back for the second night and won the lightweight division by a unanimous decision — a result that surprised her father.
“I was shocked. I knew she had technique from being raised in it, but so many fighters can’t carry it into the ring. Once the crowd gets into it, once you start getting hit in the face, you lose it,” Butch said.
“It was the most amazing thing. She appeared to be fearless. She had never even sparred with a woman before.”
The longtime trainer said it wasn’t the physical part he was worried about.
“I was concerned about the emotional part if she had lost,” McNeely said. “I wasn’t concerned about the physical part of it. I’ve reffed for so many years, I’ve never had someone seriously hurt, more so with the girls. I knew she could handle herself for the three minutes of the fight, but I was concerned about the emotional part. She had all the students there watching her.”
Luckily for her father, Hope didn’t lose. Instead she followed in the footsteps he put down 30 years ago when he won the Toughman contest. Footsteps she watched her older brother also walk in.
“It’s a feeling I can’t describe,” Hope said of following in their footsteps. “I’ve grown up being raised by both of them. I wanted to be like them, but was held back because I was young. I feel like I have accomplished something, that I was finally like them.”
So what’s next for “Hope-a-Dope” Hope McNeely?
She’ll be fighting again in March at the Welch Rough N’ Rowdy Brawl.
“If I win in Welch or whenever I win next, I’m going to have to think about what I do next,” she said. “I’d have to go on to the Golden Gloves. It would be awesome to win that and keep going. It depends on how good and confident I am in myself.”
The Welch Rough N’ Rowdy Brawl will take place on March 1 and 2 at the Welch Armory.
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McNeely wasn’t the only Wyoming East Warrior to win the Beckley event. Brandon Blaylock from Itmann won the men’s lightweight division while Michael Lafferty from Glen Rogers won the heavyweight title.
— E-mail: jrollins
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins