Gregg Foster looks about as much like a fighter as he does a preacher, which is to say not very much. It is when he speaks that shades of both begin to appear.
"If Jesus were alive," he says with conviction, "he would be a fight fan."
Foster has been tossing off bumper-sticker statements like that all week at the National Sports Festival, where he is probably the most ill-qualified athlete among the 3,500 here. The Baptist minister from Dallas would seem to have little business in the fight game, but at 5 feet 6, 112 pounds, he is nonetheless entered in the flyweight class.
Throw in the fact that he is 27 and has been boxing only three years, and his presence is fairly inexplicable. But "Preach," as he is known among the other fighters, suddenly fancies himself a serious boxer.
Foster gets a chance to test himself Friday when he opens competition against some of the best amateurs in the world. There are 10 reigning USA Amateur Boxing Federation and six Golden Gloves champions here.
"I'm not here to hit them and then throw holy water," he said. "I'm here to win."
Boxing is sheer escape for Foster, who comes from a long line of ministers -- he counts 11 among his brothers, uncles and cousins. Minister J. Lee Foster's house was a strict one, particularly for an aspiring athlete. The responsibility of being a preacher's kid weighed heavily on Foster, especially the pressure of having to be the pillar of his community.
"I know the hell of growing up in a preacher's house," Foster said. "It was a fish bowl life. Everything has to be straight all the time. There's never any fooling around; you're never able to relax."
Foster played baseball, basketball, football, any team he could make at Lake Highland High School. But his slight stature always was a drawback. After high school he spent four aimless years of rebellion that mostly consisted of attending night clubs.
"It's true what they say about preacher's kids," he said. "We're wild. I did it all. I went to clubs, strip joints. But I couldn't get away from it."
Finally, his father talked him into attending Southern Bible College, from which he was graduated in 1984. While there, looking for something to ease the claustrophobia of his calling, he took up boxing.
He wandered down to the Oak Cliff Boys Club, where Coach Taylor August took him on. His height wasn't a disadvantage for once; at 5-6 he is just right and perhaps even a little tall for the flyweight class. Mainly because it provided some variety from his religion classes, he began training seriously.
"It's a release," he said. "That's exactly what it is. When I get in the ring I'm a competitor."
According to Gregg Foster, J. Lee Foster isn't happy about his son's hobby, which has caused some tension in the family. He is one of two assistant ministers to his father at First Baptist of Hamilton Park with his brother, Anthony, 25.
"My father hates it. But he understands the fire in a child's heart," Foster said. "My mother loves it. She wants a Cadillac."
It is unlikely that Foster will go far here. He has fought only once in official, international-style competition, and that was in the National Sports Festival Trials. His first opponent here in the semifinals will be Richard Duran of Sacramento, Calif., a 19-year-old who has been boxing for eight years.
"He (Foster) started so late," said Arch Siegel, director of the Oak Cliff Boys Club. "But he's blossoming. He gets going in the first round, and he's in great shape. He's relentless about getting to his opponent."
Foster obviously sees no conflict between preaching and fighting. He has in fact used the Festival as something of a business trip.
"There's nothing wrong with it," he said. "I'm out here competing and winning souls at the same time."
Welterweight national champion Daryl Lattimore of Washington won a unanimous decision tonight over crosstown rival Alton Rice to advance to the Sports Festival finals. Also advancing was featherweight Bernard Roach, an Army paratrooper from Washington, who defeated Chuck Richards on a 4-1 decision