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Bengal Bouts support Holy Cross Missionaries

Charles Rice | Tuesday, February 10, 2004

1854. Franklin Pierce was president. Notre Dame was 12 years old. And the first Holy Cross missionaries set foot in what is now Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world. Bangladesh is 88.3 percent Muslim and 10.5 percent Hindu. Could those missionaries have foreseen that, 150 years later, Holy Cross priests, brothers and sisters would staff schools, parishes and other activities throughout that country? Maybe. But they could not have imagined that the largest single donation to their apostolate every year would be generated by Notre Dame students majoring in pugilistic science.The Holy Cross Brothers, under Brother Alan McNeil, CSC, organized a Notre Dame boxing tournament in 1920 to support the Bengal Missions. With the encouragement of Knute Rockne, that program developed. In 1931, Dominic (Nappy) Napolitano organized the Bengal Bouts in the form in which they have continued for 74 years.In 2003, the Bouts contributed $44,000 to the Bengal Missions. This year, 143 boxers will try to beat that total.The student officers of the Boxing Club run the program under the supervision of Rich O’Leary and Dave Brown of the Club Sports office. The senior captains are Pat Dillon, Tommy Demko, Stefan Borovina, Billy Zizic and Tony Hollowell. The junior captains are Nathan Lohmeyer, Jim Christoforetti and Galen Loughrey. Each boxer is a fund-raiser, selling tickets and program ads. But the brains of the outfit, and the key to its financial success, are the student managers, Kristin Boyd, Ashley Merusi and Rachel Anderson, who are taking the administrative and business end of the Bouts to a new level.This unique athletic phenomenon could happen only at Notre Dame. “The Bengal Bouts,” wrote Chicago sports columnist Bill Gleason, “are as purely amateur as a sport can be.” The head coaches are Chicago attorney Terry Johnson, Columbus, Ohio developer Tom Suddes and Pat Farrell, the University pilot. All are former Bengals champs.”We teach traditional, stand-up style boxing,” said Johnson, “the same way Nappy taught it for 50 years. We approach boxing as a sport, not as a fight. The guys understand this and are dedicated to sportsmanship, camaraderie and boxing for the missions.”In a workout led by Tom Suddes, the boxers count push-ups and sit-ups by the hundred and Tom does every one of them himself (almost).”The Bouts are special,” notes Suddes, “because you may end up in the ring with your best friend and after the final bell your relationship and mutual respect are stronger than before you put on the gloves.”The assistant coaches, all volunteers, include Sweet C. Robinson, of the Berrien Springs police department, and former boxers Ryan Rans, Chip Farrell, Tom Biolchini, Jeff Dobosh and Roland Chamblee, a Superior Court Judge and four-time Bengals champ who may be the only active judge who also serves as cornerman in a boxing ring.Holy Mother Church is in the act with the chaplains, Fr. Bill Seetch, CSC and Fr. Brian Daley, S.J., who is also a coach. They both work out with the boxers. And the timer is Msgr. John Hagerty, appropriately of Notre Dame parish in Hermitage, Penn. The primary emphasis of the program is safety. “We have never had a serious injury,” said captain Pat Dillon, “and we aim to keep it that way.”Dr. James Moriarity, University chief of medicine, closely supervises every phase of the program. EMTs are present at all contact practices. Trainer Jack Zimmerman, who is incidentally a published poet, carries on the exacting standard of care established by Jack Mooney, the head trainer for decades, who was literally Knute Rockne’s paper boy and who, at 93 years young, still maintains his interest in his boys.The Bengal Bouts will be held in five sessions, all in the JACC Field House: Feb 25, Feb. 26, March 1 and March 3, all at 6:30 p.m., and, in a return to an old tradition, the finals will be held on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17 at 8 p.m.The money raised by the Bouts, said Mission Director Fr. David L. Schlaver, CSC, “enables many to earn a living, provide medical care and housing for their families and educate their children for life – and survival – in a difficult society.”We hope the members of the Notre Dame community will continue their strong support for this superb cause on this 150th anniversary of the Bengal Missions. We welcome you to visit the practices in the JACC Boxing Room any weekday from 4 to 6 p.m. You will be impressed. And maybe even surprised.

Professor Emeritus Charles Rice is on the Law School faculty. His column appears every other Wednesday. He can be contacted at [email protected] views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.