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BENGAL BOUTS: A family affair

Mike Gilloon | Friday, March 18, 2005

Colin Kerrigan was only in high school when he learned what so many boxers before him had found out the hard way.

“My dad had his hands up, I was hitting him and it was getting to the point where I was actually hurting his hands,” said Kerrigan, a senior and two-time Bengal Bouts champion. “He was telling me to stop and I wasn’t stopping because I was having so much fun. He kept warning me and eventually he hit me. I fell to the ground with the breath knocked out of me and I learned my lesson.”

As he hit the floor that day a few years back, Colin’s name was added to the list of men who had challenged their fathers’ boxing skills – and ended up on their backs.

His dad, Class of 1972 alum Kevin Kerrigan, slugged his way to three Bengal Bout championships in the early 1970s. He was known around campus for his fierce punch and aggressive style.

“I would just go out there whaling,” Kevin said. “I was more of a fighter than I was a boxer.”

More than 30 years after Kevin decided to join the Notre Dame boxing club, Colin finished up his Bengal Bout career Wednesday night when he was upset by Brian Nicholson in the 165 lb. semi finals.

Despite this setback, the Kerrigans’ five Bengal Bout championships solidify their place as one of the best father-son boxing tandems in school history.

“Yeah, I’ll give that a try”

Kevin was a member of the Irish wrestling team his freshman year of 1968. But late in the fall semester he received two pink slips notifying him of poor academic performance. So he quit the team to focus on studying.

His grades soon improved and when the new semester began he searched for an activity.

“It was too late to go back to the wrestling team. So I was looking around for something to do and the Bengal Bouts were advertised,” Kevin said. “My dad had been a Golden Gloves boxer so I thought ‘Yeah, I’ll give that a try.'”

Like his father, Colin had a wrestling background before competing in the Bouts. His high school team won the state title during his senior year in Summerville, S.C. But the wrestling room was not the only place where Colin developed mental and physical toughness.

“I’m the youngest of five boys,” Colin said. “We all wrestled in high school so there was a lot of wrestling and roughhousing. It was interesting having so many older brothers. You get beat up a lot and you get used to getting hit a lot.”

“All of his brothers take credit for his being able to take a punch,” Kevin said. “They were his early training experience.”

Now a doctor residing in Summerville, Kevin noticed Colin had a talent for boxing even at a very early age.

“All the boys loved to punch me but he always had a harder punch for his age than his brothers did,” Kevin said.

Just like his dad, Colin doesn’t consider himself very skilled in boxing technique.

“I would say I’m more of a brawler,” Colin said. “I try to do technique. But when it comes down to it, if I’m getting hit, I generally try to hit back.”

Fighting for others

The Kerrigans have bloodied noses and handed out black eyes in the boxing ring. But outside the ropes they are soft-spoken, modest and giving. Colin is an RA in Fisher Hall and is involved in Air Force ROTC. Kevin worked overseas as a doctor in the Navy until Colin was in the fifth grade.

It may be this passion for serving others that has given the Kerrigans the drive to compete in the Bengal Bouts.

“It’s nice to know that you’re getting your face beat in for a good reason,” Colin said. “The Bengal Bouts show the way that Notre Dame uses everything to give back to the community. I think that’s one thing that Notre Dame is really good at – finding ways to use all of its good fortune and success to help others who aren’t as fortunate.”

His father agrees.

“The Bengal Bouts have gone on for so long and I think they’ve played a big role in the lives of so many young men,” Kevin said. “It’s all for the joy of the sport. It’s just about going out there and trying to perform and raise money for a good cause.”

Still the same

Thirty-three years after graduating from Notre Dame, Kevin appreciates what his time in South Bend did for his successful career in medicine.

“I attribute my Notre Dame degree to getting me into medical school,” Kevin said. “When I went to interviews I could tell they were very impressed I was from Notre Dame.”

Now with his son about to graduate, Kevin sees a Notre Dame community very similar to the one he belonged to in the 1970s.

“It’s been such a wonderful experience seeing two of my boys go through the school,” Kevin said. Kyle Kerrigan graduated from Notre Dame in 2002. “The same traditions are there. The same striving for excellence is in the atmosphere.”

Colin is a civil engineering major, yet will work in communications for the Air Force after graduation this May.

“I don’t know what I really want to do for a career,” Colin said. “I’m not even set on civil engineering.”

No matter what career Colin eventually settles into, he will be helped by the lessons he has learned from his father.

“My dad is a very kind person, ” Colin said. “He’s modest, he’s got good integrity. That’s something I try to emulate.”