Tess Civantos | Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a three-part series about Terrence Rogers, a 1979 Notre Dame graduate who has returned as a graduate student with the goal of winning Bengal Bouts.
After 31 years and 11 rejection letters, Terrence Rogers, Notre Dame class of 1979, is finally a Notre Dame student again and has one goal — to win Bengal Bouts.
Former Irish football coach Knute Rockne founded the amateur boxing tournament known as Bengal Bouts in 1920. The tournament, which follows the motto “Strong bodies fight that weak bodies may be nourished,” is a chance for male Notre Dame students to train and spar while raising money for the Holy Cross missions in Bangladesh.
At age 55, Rogers will face competitors less than half his age in this quest to win. But he is not sparring for his own sake. Following the Bengal Bouts tradition, Rogers is fighting for a different, very specific goal.
“I will be fighting on behalf of the missions,” Rogers said. “The most money that the Bengal Bouts has ever raised is $100,000. I want to help shatter the record and at least double that.”
Rogers has been a Bengal Bouts fan since his childhood in the 1960s. His oldest brother, then a student at Notre Dame, came home on break with stories of the student boxers who sparred not for their own glory but to help people in Bangladesh.
“All I ever wanted to do ever since I was ten years old was come to Notre Dame and win the Bengal Bouts,” Rogers said.
After transferring to Notre Dame from West Point in the 1970s, Rogers boxed in the Bengal Bouts three times as an undergraduate. He won the semi-finals in 1977, beating Mike Orlando by unanimous decision. Rogers won second place as a junior and became determined to win his senior year, when he made it all the way to the final round.
“That last year, 1979, was the Bengal Bouts’ largest crowd ever,” Rogers said. “Over 7,900 fans attended my final fight.”
But Rogers was fighting Bruce Belzer, a third-year law student.
“We only crossed paths that one night,” Rogers said. Rogers broke Belzer’s jaw in the first round — the most serious injury ever sustained by a Bengal Bouts participant, Rogers said. Despite the injury, Belzer came back so strongly in the third and final round and, by a split decision, Belzer won.
Rogers never got over that fight throughout his three-decade business career and stint in law school.
“Having lost that fight, after being so close to winning, always stuck in my craw,” Rogers said. “I felt that I’d robbed myself of something I’d wanted since
I was ten and that I should have achieved. I had the talent, I was in the moment three times, and I just couldn’t pull it off. It was a piece of unfinished business.”
Rogers applied to the Notre Dame Law School over and over again but was never accepted. He also tried for the master’s in creative writing graduate program with no success. His 12th application to Notre Dame finally earned him a spot in the University’s one-year master’s of law program in international human rights.
“When I finally saw ‘Rudy’ for the first time, after I was accepted, I started yelling at the television,” Rogers said with a laugh. “I said, ‘Come on, Rudy, pay your dues! Three rejections is nothing.'”
Bengal Bouts’ rules allow for four years of eligibility, so this year is Rogers’ last shot.
But the only age restriction is that boxers must be over 18.
“I have that (restriction) covered three times,” he said.
Rogers has heard plenty of criticism from those who doubt his ability to fight.
But he also believes his age will give him an advantage, as he has gotten advice and training help from other older boxers.
“This isn’t some clown show,” Rogers said. “I fully expect to win.”
The second installment of this series will examine Rogers’ past experiences as a Notre Dame undergraduate and Bengal Bouts competitor. It will run in tomorrow’s Observer.