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Fiery family just keeps on punching

Their father sets the timer for three minutes, and Matthew and Pepper Strode start punching.

Between jabs, Matthew, 15, shuffles his feet on the bumpy concrete floor of the family's boxing gym. His 16-year-old sister pounds steadily nearby, and her gloves make dull thuds when they hit the red leather punching bag."Time!" their mother yells when the timer beeps. The punching practice subsides.

Ten years ago, David Strode's cue would have sent his young children Matthew and Duffey into a burst of shrill, Scripture-studded invective, warning everyone outside their Marion elementary school that they were going to hell.

The Strodes were national news in 1988. Larry King, Oprah Winfrey and at least 15 other talk-show hosts wanted to hear the preaching kids, who had become the scourge of their mountain town.

It was the Strodes vs. the good Christian people of Marion, who were outraged that this family would move there from Pennsylvania and tell them they weren't living right. The revelers at the street festivals and parades where they preached just wanted the Strodes to leave them alone.

After six months of intense media attention and several school suspensions, David and Robin Strode agreed to keep the kids away from the school and educate the trio themselves.

With that, the Strodes say, the frenzy ended, and so did the happiest period of their lives.

"We like confrontation," said Duffey, now 20 and the manager of the Wendy's in Forest City. "The preaching was a confrontation, and I guess that's what the boxing is all about too."

Duffey began listening to rock 'n' roll music. Finally, he started dating Kim Ellington, a pretty, shy 19-year-old who grew up going to New Manna Baptist, the Marion megachurch that threw the Strodes out 10 years ago.

Blasphemy, to David Strode.

Duffey left home in June to live with a "punk rocker" friend, David Strode said, and the family didn't talk to him for 10 months.

In November, at the Marion Community Center where the Strode family once faced hundreds of angry townspeople at a special filming of the Sally Jesse Raphael show, Kim and Duffey wed.

Robin, David, Pepper and Matthew didn't attend.

Though David Strode says he is disappointed that the world did not end in 1993, as he'd predicted, his beliefs are essentially the same.

David and Robin Strode still refer to black people and gay people using the most derogatory of terms. They believe that women should not wear pants or short haircuts or work once they get married. Secular music is a bad influence. The next Roman Catholic pope will be the anti-Christ.

David Strode admits boxing isn't entirely consistent with their beliefs. The kids started karate lessons seven years ago, after two boys beat up Matthew at school, Duffey said. The karate evolved into kick boxing and, finally, traditional amateur boxing.

"It's probably more bad than good," said David Strode, who insists that Pepper change out of her boxing trunks and into a dress immediately after her bouts. "But if kids behave themselves and submit to authority, they should be rewarded with doing something fun."

For the Strodes, the fight is where the fun is - whether it's boxing or preaching.