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Ulrich forges countless bonds through bouts

Mary Green | Thursday, February 28, 2013

There’s a funny story about how Bengal Bouts senior captain Jeff Ulrich earned his nickname, “Little Bear.”

It started when he walked into his dorm, Knott Hall, for the first time freshman year. Upon arrival, he went to the check-in table and told members of hall staff his name, noticing that they all turned their attention to him when he said he was Jeff.

Unbeknownst to him, the Knott president that year was named Jeff Ullrich, only an extra L difference, and as a stocky guy with a beard, his nickname was “Grizz,” as in a grizzly bear. The attention startled Ulrich for a second before he could tell them his full name, which drew an even more unexpected response.

“They smiled and looked at each other and said, ‘We’ve been waiting for you, Little Bear’,” Ulrich said with a chuckle.

Despite his miniscule moniker, Ulrich has made a big impact on Bengal Bouts as a captain in both his junior and senior years.

Along with junior captain Daniel Yi, Ulrich is in charge of marketing for the annual boxing event, which has grown to involve people and groups outside of the borders of Notre Dame. Throughout the year, he has been in contact with various local organizations that have an interest in helping with the tournament.

“I’ve met so many people in South Bend through Bengal Bouts because either they were involved in it or they want to donate to Bengal Bouts,” he said.

For Ulrich, forming relationships is the best aspect of being involved in Bengal Bouts. There are bonds he builds with his fellow captains as they plan and run one of the most popular events on the Notre Dame campus, putting in numerous hours of work to ensure its success. Next are the connections he makes with his fellow boxers, especially the novices, who look up to him for support and advice as they develop into skilled fighters for the spring competition.

And of course, there are the bonds he forged with the people of Bangladesh when he travelled there a year and a half ago.

Ulrich decided to take the International Summer Service Learning Program trip in 2011, after competing twice in Bengal Bouts. He wanted to witness firsthand the nation that inspired the mission of the charity competition, now in its 83rd year, and came back to the United States with a new perspective. The trip has defined him as a captain.

“Before I went, doing Bengal Bouts was mostly about the competition, the skill, the adrenaline,” he said. “But after Bangladesh, [there’s] definitely a new focus. Every time some dilemma comes up or some big decision comes up … most times that decision comes down to, does it fit with our overall mission of serving the missions in Bangladesh?”

Completing the trip helped Ulrich reaffirm the real reason behind why he, and over 150 other students, makes the commitment to fight in Bengal Bouts each year.

“Obviously I knew that that was the mission from the very beginning, but having been there and seen what it does and the people that it affects and the priests that dedicate their entire lives to serving in Bangladesh, it shows me how easy it is and how little it is to commit four years to it when some priests and other people have committed their entire lives to it,” he said.

The chemical engineering and philosophy/theology double major will take a fifth year to complete his studies, but per Bengal Bouts rules, will not be able to compete past a fourth year of eligibility. However, Ulrich still plans on staying active within the club next year, possibly as a judge or referee or helping to train boxers.

The approaching end to fighting has motivated Ulrich to set a goal of winning the 166-pound weight class, in his final opportunity to do so. 

Regardless of the outcome, Ulrich said that his ultimate objective, besides captaining another successful year of Bengal Bouts, is making sure that the program continues to grow larger and stronger each year.

“A sign of a good leader is that once they’re gone, things still continue smoothly, not just when they’re present,” he said.

Win or lose, “Little Bear” has ensured that his print will remain on Bengal Bouts for years to come.

Contact Mary Green at mgreen8@nd.edu