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Bengal Bouts: Desplinter carries on family tradition

Eric Retter | Friday, March 3, 2006

A lot of kids follow the athletic trails their older brothers blazed for them.

Not so many walk in the exact footsteps.

Like his older brother Mark before him, freshman Brian DeSplinter has started his boxing career and carried on the torch of a family tradition.

Before the first season of his young Bengal Bouts career came to a close – DeSplinter lost his quarterfinal fight to Michael Schmitt Feb. 28 – Desplinter reflected on his progress through the men’s boxing program.

“I can’t believe I made it through the training and all that sort of thing. I didn’t think I’d be able to,” he said. “It started off [with me wondering] whether or not I could get through the workouts – and then whether or not I could in the ring. … It’s pretty amazing how far I’ve come.

Throughout his first year in the ring, Brian did his best to pick up where his brother, a 2005 graduate and three-time Bengal Bouts champion, left off.

“I talked to him [before my first round fight],” Brian DeSplinter said. “He told me what I should do before the bouts, mentally and stuff like that. He’s been a lot of help.”

Some of that help came this past fall, during the novice season, when the older DeSplinter returned to South Bend and helped his younger brother work on some of the finer points of the sport.

“I went back to campus this year while he was in training, and it was amazing,” Mark DeSplinter said. “I would get in the ring with him, [and] it was fun, with the pointers I gave him, coming to practice and seeing how good he was – seeing how it all came together.”

Perhaps because of his success in the ring, the elder DeSplinter didn’t initially talk to his brother about boxing.

“He didn’t want to give me a lot of help at first, because he didn’t want to make me think that I had to [box],” Brian DeSplinter said.

But as Brian began showing increasing interest, his older brother stepped in and began to pass his wisdom on to his younger brother.

“He came down to the boxing room once or twice, moved around with me and showed me some stuff,” Brian DeSplinter said.

While the story of an older brother helping his younger sibling along an athletic path is an old one, the relationship between the DeSplinters has a unique link. In each of their most recent seasons, each brother has worn a bloodstained sweatshirt to each and every practice throughout the season, never washing it between the beginning of the semester and the end of the bouts.

The tradition started during the 2004 novice season last year, when Mark DeSplinter, a senior captain, was working out after a practice.

“[A friend and I] were downstairs [in the boxing room] when we really shouldn’t have been. … I was fighting pretty well, and I kinsd of got a little cocky, throwing kind of wild punches and not really protecting myself,” Mark DeSplinter recalled. “All of a sudden, my friend comes underneath and just nails me with a right hand and almost shatters my nose. It exploded … and my sweatshirt just got covered in my blood. I was close to not being able to fight that year because my nose was so busted up, bleeding every time it was touched.”

Instead of calling it a bad practice and writing the injury off as a mistake, Mark DeSplinter instead chose to make an example of the incident.

“What I did was, I never watched the sweatshirt, because it reminded me that you can lose so easily if you every got cocky, so it reminds me never to get cocky.”

In part because of the superstitious luck the bloody sweatshirt brought his brother last season – DeSplinter dominated the 165 class to win his third title – Mark opted to follow down the same path when a similar incident occurred.

“When I got a bloody nose on my sweatshirt [early this season] I said ‘nope, not gonna wash it until I win,” Brian DeSplinter said.

Though he didn’t advance as far as he wanted, DeSplinter won his first fight, and, if he keeps true to his word, his sweatshirt will be clean before he reports to practice next January.

As his brother Brian’s career progresses, Mark DeSplinter hopes that his sibling will get the same meaning out of the program that he got.

“Bengal Bouts was the best thing I did at ND,” Mark said. “There’s nothing like it.”