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Support the bouts

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Are they nuts? 237 students returned from Christmas to go into training for the Bengal Bouts. In addition to endless push-ups, sit-ups, running, etc., they invite the rearrangement of their own facial landscapes.

No, they are not crazy. Let me tell you why. A family of four among the ultra-poor served by the Holy Cross missions in Bangladesh would live for at least a week on the $3.87 we casually drop for a latte at Starbuck’s. In 2007, the Bouts contributed $60,000 to those missions. The Holy Cross Brothers had run a boxing program at Notre Dame in the mid-1920s, but the Bengal Bouts began in 1931, with all proceeds going to the missions as they have every year since then.

Bangladesh has 140 million people in a country the size of Iowa. It is 88.3 percent Muslim, 10.5 percent Hindu and 0.3 percent Christian. The per capita annual income is $1,470. Holy Cross missionaries came there in 1854. There are 145 Holy Cross priests, seminarians and brothers (133 of them Bangladeshi) and 70 Holy Cross sisters there. They run two colleges, eight high schools and 10 parishes as well as other apostolates. In addition to political violence and corruption, they have to deal with the effects of Cyclone Sidr last November 15, which killed at least 5,000 people, injured 40,000, destroyed or damaged 1.2 million homes and 1.6 million acres of cropland and killed 1 million livestock.

The missions depend on the Bengal Bouts, according to Father Tom Smith of the Holy Cross Mission Center. The needs are basic: sanitation, clean water, safe shelter, electricity, etc. In Khalippur Parish, 20 villages of poor tribal people need for each village a latrine, costing $25 each and a tube well at $150 each.

St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Srimangal needs to repair seven one-room primary schools of mud-wall or bamboo construction with tin roofs. A primary school hostel for forty boys (kindergarten through grade five) needs a roof and benches. The only way students from remote villages can get an education is to live in those primitive hostels.

Space limits prevent mention of many other urgent needs. But the next time you interview for a job after graduation, give a thought to Holy Cross Parish in Dhaka which needs to hire a full-time teacher-catechist to work among the Telegu, a people of the lowest caste, many of whom are joining the Church. The teacher’s annual salary will be $1,000.

The participants in the Bouts take their purpose seriously. The program, under the sponsorship of Rich O’Leary and Dave Brown of RecSports, is run by the officers of the Boxing Club, president Hunter Land and captains Jesse Brawer, Patrick O’Brien, Patrick Ryan, Lawrence Sullivan, Michael Lee, Leo Rubinkowski, Mark Weber and Andres Villalba. “We run a tough program,” Hunter Land said, “but the rewards are great, including the camaraderie and friendships and especially the certainty that we are helping those who need it most.”

The toughness of the program is largely the doing of Tom Suddes, a Columbus developer who runs practices guaranteed to reduce the number of participants. Tom describes the practices as “character building.” Those who survive tend to agree. “The boxing alumni,” notes Tom, “say that what they remember above all about Notre Dame is the Bengal Bouts and the resulting friendships.” Tom and the other head coaches – Chicago attorney Terry Johnson and University pilot Pat Farrell – are former Bengal champs and volunteer their time. The assistant coaches include Sweet C. Robinson of the Buchanan Police Department, former boxers Ryan Rans, Chip Farrell, Thad Naquin, Judge Roland Chamblee and Father Brian Daley. Jimmy Rogers, of RecSports, doubles as coach and supervisor.

The emphasis is on safety, with no serious injuries in 77 years. Dr. Jim Moriarty, the University physician and his staff, keep that record going with strict testing and safety rules. Emergency Medical Technician Terri Engel attends every sparring session along with EMTs Eva Chu, Baker Jones, Jordan Lacy, Wayne Bishop, and Gordon Martinzak of the Notre Dame Fire Department.

If you think that no one is indispensable, let me introduce you to the student managers, Melanie Rodarte, Meghan O’Farrell, Kelly Garvey, Ashley Mensch and Katherine Johnston. They maintain the financial, sparring, equipment and other records. They organize, they solve problems and they leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that if they faltered, the operation would descend into chaos. They share the view expressed by Melanie when asked why she gives so much time to this. “One word,” she said. “Bangladesh. When I graduate, I want to know that I did something special here that helped real people in real need.”

The Bouts will be held in four sessions, all in the Joyce Center: Feb. 25 and 28 at 6:30 p.m., March 11 at 7:00 p.m. and the finals on March 14 at 7:30 p.m. The first two sessions will have two rings operating simultaneously. A “season ticket,” at $10, will admit you to all sessions. Admission on Feb. 25, the preliminaries, is free.

One final word, from Father Louis Cruge, who runs the Nevin Clinic for the Sick Poor in Dhaka: “So many sick people are coming to us from the city slum area, the budget is always in the red. Most expensive is our care for cancer patients. We never have enough to care for all the sick who come. The patients can offer very little. Please pray for us so that we can do something good for the poor and needy sick people and show God’s kindness and mercy to them.”

Please support the Bengal Bouts. They are fun to watch. And they are one of the very best things we do at Notre Dame.

Professor Emeritus Rice is on the law school faculty. He can be reached at (574) 633-4415 or at rice.1@nd.edu.

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

necessarily those of The Observer.