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Bengal Bouts: boxing for a better world

Charles Rice | Thursday, February 3, 2005

For once, they caught a break. Because of its shallow coastline Bangladesh suffered only two deaths from the Indian Ocean tsunami. One of the poorest countries in the world, that nation, the size of Iowa with 141 million people (83 percent Muslim, 16 percent Hindu), is usually not that lucky.

In 1970, a cyclone killed 500,000 people. Another in 1991 killed 138,000. Ruinous floods, often killing hundreds, are an annual event.

Since 1853 Holy Cross missionaries have worked in Bangladesh. The 116 Holy Cross priests and brothers, and 55 sisters, run two colleges, nine high schools, eight parishes and numerous ministries. They work especially among the ultra-poor who make up one-fifth of the population. Many families live for a year on far less than we would spend on a football weekend. Those people have depended on money raised by the Bengal Bouts every year since 1931.

The student-run Boxing Club conducts the Bouts under the guidance of Rich O’Leary and Dave Brown of Club Sports. Last year the Bouts contributed $45,000, a huge sum in Bangladesh terms. The Club aims to do better this year under the leadership of president Galen Loughrey and officers Nathan Lohmeyer, Jim Christoforetti, Mike Panzica, Mark Desplinter, Johnny Griffin, Nathan Schroeder, Greg Schaefer and Mark Basola. The brains of the outfit, however, are the business managers, Kristin Boyd and Ashley Merusi, without whom the whole event would grind to a halt.

The Club is led by experienced coaches who are former Bengal boxers. The head coaches, Terry Johnson, a Chicago attorney, and Tom Suddes, a Columbus developer, give abundantly of their time and talent, along with coach Pat Farrell, the University pilot. Tom Suddes is sure that his practices will be recalled with pain but also with gratitude.

Assistant coaches include Sweet C. Robinson, Thad Naquin and recent Bengal champs Ryan Rans, Chip Farrell, Jeff Dobosh and Tom Biolchini. Judge Roland Chamblee, a four-time Bengals champ, coaches and works the corners at the bouts.

This 75th anniversary is special because it will be the first program in five decades without Jack Mooney, who died last September at age 92. Jack was literally the paper boy for Knute Rockne, who used to sneak him onto the sidelines for home games. Jack was the trainer and living symbol of the meaning of the Bouts. “If you never met Jack,” wrote former boxer Jeevan Subbiah, “think of the old coach Micky from the ‘Rocky’ movies, and then add an old-school Notre Dame Catholic twist.” The Club aims for a record contribution this year in memory of Jack. His long-time assistant, Jack Zimmerman, has succeeded Jack Mooney as trainer.

The boxers participate for various reasons: to get in shape, for the experience of climbing into the ring alone and with no excuses, for the friendship and for the fun of it. But you might be surprised at the impressive extent to which they buy into the purpose of the Bouts – to help others who really need it.

Think of what those Holy Cross priests, brothers and sisters accomplish with sums that we would see as small change. St. Joseph Parish in Srimangal is 60 miles long with 70 villages and 8000 parishioners, almost all from the “tribal people” who represent 1 percent of the population of Bangladesh, but 65 percent of the Christian population.

The parish runs a “life skills” school for young women from very poor families. With 16 students, it operates for a year on a meager total of $2,000. They also facilitate a primary-grade hostel for poor and isolated children, often from broken families. With only $5,000, they could double the size of the building to accommodate 20 students. In the parish dispensary, the consecrated bring doctors in to serve for a fee of only $1.50 a visit, but the normal daily income of a family is 40 cents. In Mariamnagar and Chittagong, a common problem is the destruction of crops by rampaging wild elephants and pigs.

Still, the primary need is education. Each child at Diglakuna Primary Hostel incurs a cost of $32 a year to educate. Each of the 100 teens at Mariamnagar High School Hostel requires just $80 per year. So you see why the Bengal Bouts are important.

The preliminaries will be held on February 28 and March 1st, the quarter-finals on March 3rd, the semi-finals on March 16 and the finals on March 19th – all in the JACC. All members of the Notre Dame community are welcome to visit the practices, which runfrom 4 to 6 p.m., weekdays, in the JACC boxing room.

Despite ever-increasing political violence and terrorism, the Holy Cross missionaries stay on the front lines. They need our help. So please support the Bengal Bouts. Buy an ad in the program, donate money, sell tickets and, especially, come to the Bouts to encourage this uniquely Notre Dame endeavor.

Professor Emeritus Charles E. Rice is on the Law School faculty. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be contacted at plawecki.1@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.