Zack Harold

freelance journalist

Getting Over: The Disgraced W.Va. Gospel Music Promoter Who Found Redemption in Indie Wrestling

This story was published on 100 Days in Appalachia on July 30, 2019.

The sound of twanging electric guitars fills the Madison Civic Center, a small gymnasium in the heart of southern West Virginia’s coalfields. It’s “Ride Stallion Ride,” the entrance music for WWE Hall of Fame inductee Cowboy Bob Orton.

The 300 fans seated on folding chairs and wooden bleachers during this May 2018 show clap and cheer as they wait for the wrestler to appear from behind the black polyester curtain. But the Orton that finally emerges is not the young, scowling, curly-haired villain pictured on the posters for tonight’s show. It’s not the big dumb oaf who, during the inaugural Wrestlemania in 1985, accidentally whacked his pal Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndoff on the head to give Hulk Hogan an easy pin.

The fringe vest and Stetson are the same. So is the prominent nose. But this white-haired, 70-year-old version of Cowboy Bob Orton has a keg where decades before a six-pack used to be. Yet his feet are light as he trots to the ring with Louis Moore, his tag-team partner for the night. He scales the ringside steps and swings his body through the ropes, then jogs slowly around the ring as the ring announcer introduces his opponents.

Now it is Fall Out Boy’s “Centuries” blaring from the speakers. The good guy tag team O.V.E.R. appears from behind the curtain. Skinny, pale and dressed in black, Christian Kobain and Shane Kryzak look like members of a heavy metal cover band. They strut down the aisle, jump into the ring and mount adjacent turnbuckles to flex for their devotees — the majority of whom, from the sound of the squeals, seem to be women.

The referee checks everyone’s boots and signals for the bell.

If you’ve ever seen a tag team match, you can guess how this will go. Orton and Moore spend much of the match abusing Kobain while keeping him safely out of Kryzak’s reach. When the battered babyface finally gets to his corner and makes the tag, his comrade explodes into the ring — only to promptly fall into Moore and Orton’s clutches. For a moment, it looks like the bad guys will win. Orton goes for an RKO, a neckbreaker finishing move made famous by his son and fellow WWE superstar Randy Orton. But at the last second, Kobain reaches into the ring and pulls Kryzak from Orton’s grasp.

This destabilizes the big cowboy. He stumbles and falls to the mat. Both members of O.V.E.R. dogpile onto his hefty frame. The referee flops on his belly and pounds the mat with an open palm. One. Two. Three.

The ref signals for the bell and Fall Out Boy again fills the gymnasium, the emo pop mixing with shouts from fans. But instead of cheering the victorious good guys, the crowd sing-songs at Orton.

“YOU STILL GOT IT!” clap clap clapclapclap “YOU STILL GOT IT!” clap clap clapclapclap “YOU STILL GOT IT!”

Moore grabs a microphone and accosts Orton for losing the match. “All these people out here say ‘You still got it.’ From what I saw here tonight, you don’t have it anymore old man.”

The fans begin chanting again. “R-K-O! R-K-O! R-K-O!” In a flash, Orton locks his arm around Moore’s head and drops to the mat. Moore flops on the canvas like his spine has been separated from his brainstem. Now Orton’s music is blasting through the sound system.

The crowd erupts with a fervor usually reserved for tent revivals and championship football games. Grown men leap to their feet in ecstatic applause. Preteen boys in basketball shorts move to the aisle to slap Orton’s hands before he disappears behind the curtain. This is something they might tell their own preteen boys about someday, the night they saw Cowboy Bob Orton administer an RKO at the Madison Civic Center.

Little do fans realize that Gary Damron, who has promoted wrestling shows like this for the last 14 years under the name All Star Wrestling, has worked for months trying to bring this moment to fruition — and he saw almost none of it. Damron spent the majority of Orton’s match hidden away in the civic center’s kitchen, stuffing cash into white envelopes to pay his wrestlers.

Many wrestling promoters are former wrestlers themselves. Damron is not. He is a short, soft-spoken, soft-bodied, spectacled midnight shift movie theater custodian with plantar fasciitis. He loves All You Can Eat Wings Wednesdays at Quaker Steak & Lube, his dachshund Chico, and ’80s pop culture — especially The Golden Girls. He has no interest in administering or receiving a drop kick, frog splash, figure four, or piledriver. He has too much work to do.

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Colleagues shocked by arrest, confession in woman’s death

This story was originally published April 26, 2012 in the Charleston Daily Mail. It was co-written with Jared Hunt, and won second place in the “best written news story” category of the 2013 West Virginia Press Association Better Newspaper Contest.

It was a Friday evening almost two years ago when employees of Kelley’s Men’s Shop donned yellow ribbons and gathered with family and friends in the store’s parking lot for a candlelight vigil.

They prayed for the safe return of friend and co-worker Kathy Goble.

What they didn’t know then was that the man who would later admit to strangling Goble, dismembering her body and burying it in his backyard was standing right there with them.

This was one of many details employees at the family-owned Charleston store were coming to terms with Wednesday afternoon after news broke that long-time store shoe salesman Charles March had been arrested for Goble’s murder.

“We’re still in shock,” Kelley’s owner Kenny Waldeck said Wednesday afternoon.

Goble worked in the sporting apparel department for over a decade before she disappeared.

The news that her body had been found in Chesapeake Wednesday morning was enough of a shock.

But employees were doubly blindsided when they learned March—a shoe salesman and Kelley’s employee for more than 30 years—had been arrested as her killer.

“It’s just unbelievable that somebody that’s been with us for two years since she disappeared could just commit such a heinous crime and not show any kind of remorse, or change in demeanor or anything that would indicate that he was remotely involved,” Waldeck said.

Kristi Walker, Waldeck’s daughter and store vice president, sat ashen-faced Wednesday as she tried to describe how she felt.

“A little sick,” Walker said. “Nauseous would be the appropriate word.”

With two years having gone by, Walker’s hopes that Goble would be found alive had begun to dim.

She found some closure in the discovery of Goble’s remains. But she said she was trying to deal with the fact that the accused killer had spent two years in her midst.

“You go from one set of questions as to where she is to how this happened, and why,” Walker said.

“And how do you live with it,” Waldeck added.

Both said Goble’s name had been mentioned in conversation every day at the store since she went missing. And they said at no point during two years worth of conversations did March ever do anything that would indicate he knew where Goble was.

“He was just like all the rest of us,” Walker said. “He would sit in on conversations where we would all just be like, ‘What could have happened to her?’

“Her friends that he knew would come in, and he would talk to them about what could have happened to Kathy—he never gave any inclination that he knew,” she said.

Walker said March did call in sick on Tuesday—the second anniversary of Goble’s disappearance—but she didn’t think anything of it at the time.

She said the only time anyone really noticed a change in March’s demeanor occurred a few months ago following the death of his mother. March, who was divorced, seemed down for a while, but Waldeck said he perked back up after the birth of his latest grandchild earlier this year.

“Someone told me on the phone this morning, ‘I just talked to somebody here in the store a couple weeks ago specifically about her, and he just showed no sign of anything,'” Waldeck said.

Those who knew March outside work shared the disbelief.

A neighbor in Chesapeake named Dana, who would not provide his last name, said he considered March a friend. The men have known each other for 20 years, and Dana has lived across the street for the last decade.

March often volunteered to cut Dana’s grass while he and his wife were at work.

“He’d say, ‘Just leave the key to your outbuilding and I’ll get your lawnmower out,'” Dana said.

The men also watched television together. Dana would go to March’s singlewide mobile home some evenings to watch movies or wrestling shows like “WWE Monday Night RAW.”

When Dana’s doctor warned him he was in the early stages of diabetes, March started buying Diet Coke for his friend to drink when he visited. Dana said he doesn’t mind the off-brands, like Diet Big K, but March always bought him the name brand.

He said March never mentioned Goble’s disappearance.

“We never would have thought he’d do anything like that,” he said.

Charles Hughey, 74, also was shocked by the allegations.

Hughey has lived in his Ohio Avenue home for 27 years. He said March was living in his trailer when Hughey moved there.

“He’s a nice guy. You never heard a thing from him,” Hughey said.

Kenneth Johnson, 82, also was surprised.

Johnson, a lifelong Chesapeake resident, lives across the train tracks from March’s trailer. He’s known March since he was a little boy. Johnson said March’s parents used to run a small store near Town Hall.

“I just couldn’t hardly believe that. He was always friendly,” Johnson said.

March’s home is a ramshackle trailer with aged white siding and a weatherworn roof, separated from the street by a split-rail fence. On Wednesday, that fence was lined with yellow crime scene tape.

March told police he strangled Goble to death in that trailer and then wrapped her body in a blanket and placed it in a bathtub.

He dismembered Goble’s body the next day and buried it in the yard, he told police.

Eventually, the soil covering her shallow grave began to sink.

March’s son, David, noticed the sinkhole. On Wednesday, he grabbed a shovel and decided to figure out what was causing it.

“They didn’t know why it kept sinking in,” Chesapeake Mayor Damron Bradshaw said. “He was trying to see what the problem was on the bottom of the hole, to see what the cause of it was.

“That’s when he unearthed the skull.”

David March dropped his shovel and crossed the train tracks that separate his father’s house from the rest of Chesapeake. He walked the short distance to Town Hall, looking for Police Chief Jack Ice.

Ice was at the Capitol in Charleston at the time, but Bradshaw volunteered to walk back to the house. The mayor called 911 when he saw what David’s shovel had uncovered.

Bradshaw said he had known Charles March since childhood.

“His family and our family were great friends for years,” he said.

He would not answer when asked if he was surprised by the suspect’s confession.

“Don’t ask me that question,” Bradshaw said.

March was sitting in his usual seat in the Kelley’s shoe department reading the morning newspaper when detectives came to question him.

After a brief conversation in the store’s backroom, one of the detectives told a Kelley’s employee March was going to the sheriff’s department to answer a few questions.

“The detective told them that (March) would be back in a little bit,” Walker said.

Walker was at home when news outlets began reporting that the body in Chesapeake could be Goble. She said she called the store and told employee Tami Lowmiller to warn everyone to brace for the worst.

That’s when Lowmiller told her the police had just left.

“She said, ‘Oh, no—they just took Charlie out of here,'” Walker said.

And that was when the full weight of the situation came to bear.

“I didn’t put it together until I talked to Tami,” Walker said.

Poet finds peace after long struggle with addiction

This story was originally published April 24, 2014 in the Charleston Daily Mail.

On Aug. 6, 2006, Larry “Ace” Boggess walked into the McCloud Family Pharmacy in Lavalette dressed in a long black hood and cape, intending to steal some Oxycontin.

He was armed with a pair of steak knives and a crowbar, although he now says he never intended to use them.

Nevertheless, Boggess soon found himself in a scuffle with pharmacist Jim McCloud.

According to media reports at the time, Boggess cut McCloud several times during the fight. A state policeman was nearby when the 911 call came through and was able to subdue Boggess and take him to the Western Regional Jail.

Boggess had never been arrested before. Never even had a speeding ticket. Now, he was fingerprinted. He had a mugshot. He was headed into the state correctional system.

He was a law school graduate and a widely published poet. But Boggess also was a drug addict, and had been for years.

Boggess plead guilty to first degree robbery and was sentenced to 25 years in prison, although he would only serve five.

It saved his life. Boggess got clean and stayed that way.

Prison also saved his writing.

Once convinced he couldn’t write without a painkiller coursing through his veins, Boggess eventually proved he did not need opiates to make good art. He produced an entire volume of poetry, “The Prisoners,” during his time behind bars.

The book was released in February and this Friday, Boggess will return to Taylor Books for his first Charleston reading in nearly a decade.


Boggess never considered himself a poet. From the time he was a child, he wanted to write novels.

Poetry was just a quick way of committing ideas to paper.

“It’s faster when you’re getting started,” he said.

After graduating from George Washington High School in 1989, Boggess headed to Marshall University, where he studied journalism. He got a job with the Herald Dispatch, and found writing poetry was also a good way to kill time between stories.

The newspaper industry didn’t seem like a good fit, however, so he moved to Morgantown and enrolled in West Virginia University’s College of Law.

At the same time, his dependence on prescription painkillers was steadily increasing, even though those closest to him never knew.

Boggess says he avoided even ibuprofen and aspirin as a young man, but got his first taste of the painkiller Loratab following a wisdom teeth extraction at age 19.

“It was like a bomb went off in my head,” he said. “It erases everything, or at least you think it does.”

He dabbled with painkiller for the next several years, but his habit took a turn for the worse in his last year of law school at West Virginia University.

That’s when he discovered Oxycontin.

Boggess found a bottle of the high-powered opiates while rifling through his deceased grandmother’s medicine cabinet.

The high was the same as with other drugs, he found, but Oxy’s packed a bigger punch. One Oxycontin felt like a hundred Percocet.

He was soon hooked on the drug but, realizing he had a problem, Boggess kicked his habit cold turkey during finals week of his last semester of law school. But the sobriety would not last long.

Boggess wound up back in Huntington after law school. He never took the bar exam (“I knew I would never make it as a lawyer,” he says) but paid the bills with freelance writing jobs and editing projects, as well as a few fellowships he received from the state.

He had completed 10 novels by this time, but although he was having poems published “left and right,” Boggess still could not find a publisher interested in his fiction.

“I’d probably put 15 years of my life at that point into writing and they wouldn’t sell,” he said.

Boggess was rudderless and depressed. He also became convinced he needed drugs to write.

He had never purchased pills before — he usually got his fix by stealing family members’ prescriptions — but friends in Huntington introduced Boggess to drug deals with a steady supply of prescription painkillers.

Now, Boggess’s ability to get drugs was only limited by his financial resources.

His addiction was worse than ever and, over the next eight years, would destroy his entire life.


Boggess said the hardest part of addiction was not being high or sober, but the state in between.

“Picture the worst flu you’ve ever had. The shakes, the fever, the twitches, things you can’t even put into words…and multiply that by 100.”

The sickness is made worse, Boggess said, because addicts know they only need one pill to make the sickness go away. So they take the drug and enjoy the temporary relief, only to start the process all over again.

“You keep going through this day after day and eventually your mind just goes.”

His friends were aware he had a drug problem, although they underestimated how severe it was. His family, however, had no idea about his addiction.

“Never underestimate a junkie’s sense of control,” he said.

Boggess drove to Wayne County every day to visit his drug dealer, scrounging up money where he could to feed his habit. And every day, he drove by the same pharmacies.

“Eventually I started wondering, would it be easier to go in there and just get the drug?”

In June 2006, he walked into a Rite-Aid in Lavalette with a long kitchen knife. He left with “a lot” of Oxycontin.

“I don’t think I ever counted them. By that point I was out of my head. I was just taking pills left and right.”

Boggess somehow got away with the robbery and, emboldened, decided to try again.

“I was completely insane. I had no idea what I was doing for the most part.”

That’s when Boggess made his failed robbery attempt at the McCloud Family Pharmacy and found himself facing his first night in jail.

He chronicled the experience in his poem “What Was Your First Day of Incarceration Like?”

“In a medical isolation cell, I paced and cursed and purged, bent over the steel john as if I lost something: a wedding band or matched set of dreams. Left alone, buried alive.”

He recalls laying face down on the concrete floor, peeking through a crack underneath the door.

“Praying any human foot would pass: an angel of mercy, invisible friend, a stranger’s voice in the wilderness of night,” he wrote.


Boggess spent a month and a half in jail before he was released on bond. He then spent the next six months in a rehabilitation program, returning home clean and sober.

He plead guilty to first degree robbery in July 2007. Four months later, a judge sentenced him to 25 years in prison.

He was immediately taken back to the Western Regional Jail, where he waited for six months until being transferred to the Martinsburg Correctional Center in March 2008 for classification.

“Same spare walls, spiritless meals, but new clothes and a new view,” he wrote in the poem “Prison View.”

Boggess spent the majority of his time as an inmate at the Stevens Correctional Facility, a medium security prison in Welch.

“It was complete misery but at the same time it was a whole world I’ve never seen before,” he said.

He was scared but fascinated. Boggess said the environment was much less ruthless or violent than he’d expected.

“Prison here isn’t like what you see on TV,” he said. “They’re all just people. A lot of them are screwed up. I was screwed up. But a lot of them are just overly rambunctious children.”

He began pouring all his experiences onto the page.

“I’ve always considered myself a kind of journalist-poet. I try to describe what I see,” he said.

The poems in “The Prisoners” capture everything from prison chefs (“they could cook the delight from a birthday cake”) to the day room, where inmates watch a movie about prison.

“Not the classic where Tim Robbins escapes, or Clint Eastwood escapes, or Tom Hanks puts the innocent man to death. Instead it’s Eddie Murphy who can’t escape Martin Lawrence.”

There is humor in the book, but there is also despair.

In the book’s title poem, Boggess writes the prisoners “have seen too much, smudged the flush from embers of memory’s freedom, covered them up with ash.”

He asks “what does it mean to hope? To want more than this? To dream of the outside, then forget?”

Boggess even dedicates a poem to McCloud, asking for his forgiveness in the poem “Letter to My Victim.”

“I’m deeply sorry in you I saw nothing human, just a door through which hell is exited…If I could, I’d take back the knife, return the blood and fix your wounds,” he writes.

Boggess had 75 poems published in 50 different magazines while he was behind bars.

He compiled them into the book that would later become “The Prisoners” and, on the day he was released on parole in December 2012, received an acceptance letter from Brick Road Poetry Press in Columbus, Ga.

The publisher released “The Prisoners” in February of this year, just as Boggess was finishing up his parole.


Boggess has been sober for nearly eight years now, but his body still craves the drugs that ruined his life and took away his freedom.

“The desire’s always there. Once you’re an addict, it never goes away.”

He stays clean because he realizes the consequences of using drugs again.

“I destroyed my whole life and probably a few other peoples’ as well,” he said. “I wouldn’t take pills if you threw them at me and ran away.”

He also has no desire to return to prison. Boggess is enjoying his freedom, even if it sometimes overwhelms him.

“The best thing about being free is there are so many choices. But the worst thing about being free is there are so many choices,” he said.

Behind bars, he never had to think about what to eat, what to drink or what to wear. Now, even choosing a utensil can be a profound experience.

“You spend five years eating with a rubber spoon…when you’re grateful for a fork, imagine what the bigger things do to you,” he said. “It’s fascinating. Coming back out is a whole new experience, too. I’m seeing everything I saw before, but it’s all different now.”

It hasn’t been easy. Boggess cannot find work, even though he has two degrees and has filled out 50 job applications in the last year.

He is publishing poems and short stories, but the novels still are not selling.

But instead of turning to drugs, Boggess is channeling everything into his writing. He is finishing another volume of poetry inspired by his release from prison.

“Even when things are bad I feel okay with it,” he said. “Really for the first time in my life everything is good. Even when it’s not.”

Ace Boggess will be at Taylor Books on Capitol St. this Friday at 6 p.m. to sign copies of his book “The Prisoners.” He also will read some of his poems beginning about 7 p.m.

Bluegrass gospel group The Easter Brothers still saying “Thank You”

This story was originally published July 3, 2014 in the Charleston Daily Mail.

There aren’t too many living people who can say their songs are in hymn books, but James Easter is one of them.

His song “Thank You Lord For Your Blessings on Me,” co-written with brothers Russell and Ed, is sung in congregations all over the world.

And the brothers, now all in their 80s, are still singing that song. They will perform it live this Saturday night at the Milton Opry House.

James, 82, said he still sometimes cries when he sings “Thank You Lord” because he remembers the man he was when he wrote it: a recovering alcoholic and convicted felon, fresh out of prison.

He had a wife and young child, a job that paid next to nothing and a tiny house he rented for $10 a month.

“I didn’t have no wealth whatsoever. I was right at the bottom but I knew I had something in my life that made me happy.”

James sat down and wrote the words that would find their way into gospel music history:

“There’s a roof up above me, I’ve a good place to sleep, there’s food on my table and shoes on my feet. You gave me your love, Lord, and a fine family. Thank you, Lord, for your blessings on me.”

It’s a simple declaration of faith that fans have come to expect from the Easter Brothers, who also have contributed songs like “Lord, I Can’t Picture Me Without You,” “He’s The Rock I’m Leaning On,” and “A Heart That Will Never Break Again” to the southern gospel canon.

Their success might be a little surprising to those who grew up in Mount Airy, N.C., in the 1930s, however. The Easter brothers were singing a very different song then.

Russell, the oldest of the Easter boys, taught James to play guitar when he was eight years old.

A few years later — when James was 10 and Russell was 12 — the boys started playing in beer joints together. And before long, they were doing more than just playing in beer joints.

James said he and Russell were full-blown alcoholics before either of them could legally drive a car.

The addiction almost killed Russell when he was 14. He got a bottle of bad whiskey and would have died from alcohol poisoning if James hadn’t carried him to a doctor.

Russell’s life was spared when he met and married a girl from Danville, Va. She got him into church and away from the bottle.

James, meanwhile, was still in Mount Airy.

“I got in with the wrong crowd,” he said. “You had to do mean things if you got to run with them.”

That quickly got him into trouble. By age 16, James was stealing cars with his buddies and taking them for joyrides.

“We called it borrowing cars,” he said.

The court didn’t see it that way. James was found guilty of felony theft charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

But like Joseph in the Old Testament, James believes his time behind bars was just part of God’s plan.

Rev. C.S. Grogan, writer of southern gospel classics like “Jesus Signed My Pardon,” came to speak at the prison a few months after James arrived.

James reluctantly attended the service and sat in the back of the mess hall, hiding behind the heads of the other inmates. But then he looked at Grogan.

“I saw some tears coming out from under his glasses. He pointed straight at me and said ‘I know somebody that loves you.’ I punched my buddy and said ‘He must know my mama.’

“I’d never heard about Christ. None of us had ever been to church, never heard preaching,” James said.

“From that moment I wanted him in my heart. I didn’t get him right then, but I wanted him right there.”

James would not convert to Christianity for several more years.

He was released after five years for good behavior, returned to Mount Airy and, before too long, was running with his old group of friends.

“I was well on my way back to prison,” he said.

Russell came to James’ house and talked his little brother to move to Danville, where both he and Ed now lived in an effort to escape their reputation back home.

“We were three alcoholics in Mount Airy,” James said.

Once in Danville, James found himself wandering into a little church.

“I don’t even know the name of the church. I couldn’t wait for them to give an invitation because what brother Grogan said kept running through my mind.”

His life finally on track, James joined his brothers in their group the Green Valley Quartet, which they eventually changed to the Easter Brothers to avoid confusion with another local group.

They started off singing religious songs by country and bluegrass artists like The Stanley Brothers and Roy Acuff as well as old hymns.

But their popularity really took off when the brothers began writing their own tunes.

Russell wrote a song called “The Darkest Hour,” which got the attention of bluegrass duo Don Reno and Red Smiley, who got the Easters a recording deal with King Records.

Not long after that, James said a New York magazine interviewed Elvis Presley about his favorite records.

Presley mentioned he listened to a lot of southern gospel, and one of his recent favorites was a song called “Darkest Hour” by a North Carolina group called the Easter Brothers.

When the magazine hit newsstands, calls started flooding into the Easters’ record label.

“All of Elvis’s fans wanted our record,” James said.

As their star began to rise, the brothers were offered opportunities to get back into country music.

They always declined, however, worried returning to secular music might drive them back to alcohol.

Once, a record label executive promised to put them at the top of the record charts if they would record some love songs.

“We told him we were already singing the greatest love songs we could sing,” James said.

The Easter Brothers have now been on the road for 60 years. And even though Russell is 84 years old, James is 82 and Ed is 80, they are showing no signs of stopping.

James said it feels like they’re just getting started. They are still writing songs — they have more than 100 now — and the brothers hope to record at least one more CD.

“We’re called to do it. That’s why the Easter Brothers are still out here,” he said. “It ain’t the money. That disappears real quick.”

The Easter Brothers will appear this Saturday at the Milton Opry House along with the Easter Family, a bluegrass group of Russell Easter’s grandchildren.

Doors open at 5 p.m. and the concert begins at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and $5 for children. Concessions will be available.

The Easter Brothers and the Easter Family also will appear at Rumble Community Baptist Church in Ashford on Sunday at 10 a.m.

The groups will perform at Stanaford New Beginnings Christian Church in Beckley at 6 p.m. Sunday.

Zac Jones to fight in Rough ‘n’ Rowdy Brawl

This story was originally published Jan. 9, 2014 in the Charleston Daily Mail. It won “Best Lifestyles Feature” at the 2015 West Virginia Press Association Awards.

Fists wrapped and gloves tied, tomorrow night Zac Jones, the often-troubled son of Charleston mayor Danny Jones, will duck through the ropes at the Charleston Civic Center for his first ever boxing match.

He’s been training for months, running, lifting weights and learning the fundamentals of the sport from his coach at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center.

“I’m not nervous now,” he said. “I’m sure it will change by the time the event comes around, when I step into the ring with thousands of people watching.”

Jones, 24, is among the dozens of men and women signed up to fight in this year’s Rough N’ Rowdy amateur boxing contest, which begins Friday night.

He initially signed up because he needs the money.

The winner of each weight division gets $1,000, a substantial sum when you’re working two low-paying restaurant jobs to make ends meet.

But over the last month, Jones became more sincere in his training. He doesn’t know if he’ll win, but he believes there’s a chance.

And if he loses . . . well, he’s been there before.

This is Jones’ first boxing match, but it’s not his first fight.

And while thousands will see him step into the ring, millions were watching the last time he went to the mat.

This time, Zac Jones is fighting for $1,000, a championship jacket and a trophy.

Last time, he was fighting for his life.

* * *

It was 6:30 on a chilly March morning, and Jones was speeding down Interstate 77 in a white Mazda 3 with Moldavian Harris, 24, of Detroit.

Metro Drug Unit Detective O.B. Morris spotted the car, followed it off the Washington Street exit and turned on his blue lights.

Mayor Danny Jones had informed Charleston Police of his son’s whereabouts so he could be arrested.

Officers found 25.7 grams of cocaine in the vehicle. Jones and Harris were charged with possession with intent to deliver cocaine. A judge set their bonds at $25,000 cash. The mayor refused to pay his son’s bail.

National media outlets picked up the story after the elder Jones released a heartbroken statement declaring his son a “hopeless drug addict.” He said he was thankful for Zac’s arrest.

“If in jail or prison, I know that Zac has a better chance at living than on the outside. This is because Zac is a hopeless drug addict who has broken the heart and the will of everyone and anyone who has tried to help him,” he wrote.

The stories all mentioned the younger Jones’ previous run-ins with police, a 2008 DUI arrest and a 2011 bust for heroin possession.

No one knew his struggles with substance abuse had started much earlier.

“I always felt I was different. I think I was born with this disease of addiction,” he said.

He began smoking marijuana at age 12, a year before his father was elected mayor.

“There was something just attractive about it. I don’t know if that makes sense to somebody that’s normal,” he said.

Things got worse as he got older. Jones estimates he got high every single day from the time he was 14 until his first stint in rehab at age 20.

He got his first taste of painkillers at age 16, after breaking his feet in a skateboarding accident. He began abusing Vicodin before moving onto Oxycontin, which eventually led to heroin.

“The opiates are where I really found what I was looking for,” he said. “Cocaine was always in there, too.”

He was arrested for the first time in 2008, after crashing his car in South Hills.

Jones, just 18 at the time, ran from the scene. Police found him a short time later in wet and dirty clothes. His blood alcohol content was 0.122.

At age 20, he decided to get clean. He was spending all his money on drugs while his bills and rent were falling behind.

“I could tell I had a problem,” he said.

His father sent him to a rehabilitation facility in California, where he successfully kicked his habits and graduated the program. The sobriety only lasted a few months, however.

Jones had hoped rehab would cure his addiction to “heavy” drugs, but wasn’t ready to give up alcohol.

“I was 20 years old. I wanted to drink,” he said.

He underestimated the strength of his addiction. Jones was soon using drugs again, and was arrested for heroin possession in 2011.

Police, responding to complaints of drug activity, arrived at an apartment on Kelly Road, where Jones answered the door and allowed the officers inside. His girlfriend at the time handed over a plate with 10 lines of heroin, which Jones admitted belonged to him.

His father refused to offer any more help.

“I was so miserable. I was ready to run ’til the wheels fell off,” Jones said. “I didn’t care about anything or anyone.”

* * *

After his arrest last spring, Jones spent more than three months in the South Central Regional Jail. His father refused to pay his bond and asked that no one else would, either.

Looking back, Zac said he’s glad for the tough love because it forced him to come to a realization. He could spend his life in jail, stay addicted to drugs, die or get clean.

He decided to get clean. He began calling The Healing Place, a rehabilitation facility in Huntington, every single day, “desperate, desperate to change my life.”

“They want you to show you’re really wanting it,” he said.

When the center wouldn’t accept him right away, Jones got started on his own.

“When I was arrested, I was in really, really bad shape. I’d done drugs for a lot of years. I just decided I wanted to use the time I was going to be away to get back in shape,” he said.

The jail didn’t have a gym, so he began doing exercises in his cell. The exertion made him sick at first, but Jones was eventually doing 1,000 push-ups a day. He started lifting weights after he was released to The Healing Place in June. When he moved to the Kanawha Valley Fellowship Home a few months later, he started going to a gym in Charleston.

In nine days, Zac Jones will be 10 months sober and in the best shape of his life.

Every morning he rolls out of bed by 5:30 a.m. and, four days a week, begins strength training by 6 a.m. He also runs, clocking five kilometers every other day. He goes to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center on Donnally Street three or four times a week to train for boxing.

He works hard to stay fit, and you can tell. When he was arrested, Jones’ face still bore some of the softness of adolescence. That’s gone now.

His shoulders and arms bulge under his T-shirt sleeves, the skin stretched tight to show thick veins underneath. Watching him work a punching bag in the gym, you’re thankful it isn’t your face.

Jones also works hard to stay sober. It’s a daily struggle.

“It took me a long time to realize I cannot use drugs or alcohol successfully,” he said. “Without me being clean, I don’t have a chance.”

He has figured out ways to keep himself in check.

Some of his strategies, like the exercise, he’ll talk about. Other parts, he prefers to keep private.

“It’s not easy being an addict and staying sober,” he said. “I know how it is. I know how it feels. It’s a tough way to live.”

Jones has quit drugs, alcohol, even cigarettes. He still dips snuff, which helped him quit smoking, but he wants to quit that, too, after the fight.

“There’s help out there. You have to sincerely want it, and be willing to ask,” he said.

“This way of life is a lot better than the alternative.”

* * *

Although he formerly worked as a coal miner, Jones is now a cook at Recovery Sports Grill on Virginia Street.

On Thursdays, he goes to work at the Mardi Gras Racetrack and Casino in Cross Lanes, where he makes $40 a night cooking his father’s special barbeque ribs for the French Quarter restaurant.

“I get my ass kicked every day. It’s hard work, working in a restaurant,” he said.

Jones said he likes the restaurant business, but figures the only way to make real money is to open his own place. He hopes to eventually resurrect his father’s restaurant, Danny’s Rib Shack, somewhere in the Kanawha Valley. Right now, he’s just trying to build up experience.

It’s the same thing with his Rough N’ Rowdy fight.

“I’m not going to be a boxer. I’m not training for the Golden Gloves,” he said. “It’s something I’ve trained for. I’ve already done what I’ve set out to do.”

When Jones signed up for the Rough ‘N’ Rowdy, he was asked to provide a ring name.

Many fighters take inspiration from their home counties.

Boone County will be represented this year by a “Boone County Beast,” a “Boone County Brawler,” a “Boone County Redneck,” a “Boone County Thrill,” a “Boone County Outlaw,” a “Boone County Wild Child” and even a “Wildest Child.”

Others play off their given names, like “Cam the Man,” “Cam Nasty” and “John Boy.”

Jones originally considered “Bones,” but realized a lot of fighters with his last name pick that one.

Then the word Juggernaut popped into his head. He first thought of the villain from Marvel’s X-Men comic books. But then he looked at the definition.

“It means an unstoppable force.”