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Men to box in bouts for Bangladesh

Meghan Wons | Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The tradition of strong bodies fighting “that weak bodies may be nourished” continues tonight with the first punches thrown in Notre Dame’s famous Bengal Bouts.

“Guys who are fighting tomorrow want to come in to work up a little bit of a sweat,” senior captain and Notre Dame Boxing Club president Andrew McGill said at an informal practice Tuesday.

Working up a little sweat is well worth the nearly $80,000 the more than 200 men – a record number – hope to donate to the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh this year.

By Tuesday afternoon, McGill said, approximately $100,560 had already been raised from tickets, advertising and merchandise – a very promising figure, but one that does not reflect any deductions taken for expenses. He said last year’s expenses were approximately $42,000.

At practice Tuesday afternoon, the steady beat of songs like “Air Force One” echoed the sounds of fists hitting the punching bags. The boxers rotated in and out of a practice ring, some jumping rope while others hit the floor for pushups and sit ups.

Senior and third-year Boxing Club member Nate “The Closer” Barbera was keeping loose at practice Tuesday and will enter the ring for his first Bengal Bouts fight tonight.

“I feel like I’m pretty ready; I feel like I’ve prepared myself as well as I could have,” Barbera said. “I wrestled in high school and it’s a lot like wrestling – you push yourself in boxing and wrestling more than any other sport I’ve every played.”

Such “pushing” began at Notre Dame in 1920, when boxing was first brought to the University by legendary football coach Knute Rockne, according to the Bengal Bouts Web site. Bengal Bouts was not established, however, until 1931 when Dominic “Nappy” Napolitano decided to give his boxers something really worth fighting for – the missions in Bangladesh.

Since Napolitano established Bengal Bouts as a fundraiser for the Holy Cross Missions, “the Bouts have become the largest contributor” to this cause, McGill said.

McGill said the work the Holy Cross brothers have done in Bangladesh includes running a university and several elementary and secondary schools, providing shelter and care for low-income families and building an orphanage, a hospital and a shelter for abused women.

“The Holy Cross Brothers are a huge presence in Bangladesh, and it’s incredible how far the money we donate goes over there,” McGill said.

The Bengal Bouts mission has been emphasized to the boxers this year, McGill said.

“I think we’ve been really successful fundraising because we really talked to the boxers about the Holy Cross Missions and what the Brothers do – we encouraged everyone to get involved,” he said. “We told them that granted, you’re down [in the gym] every day boxing, working hard and making some of your best friends … but the real heart and soul of the program, it’s a charity event.”

That spirit of charity is evident in every aspect of the Bengal Bouts, from the money donated to the Missions to the countless volunteers who make the Bouts possible.

Two men, whom McGill described as the “heart and soul of the Bouts,” are volunteer coaches Terry Johnson and Tom Suddes – both former boxers at Notre Dame.

McGill said Johnson, a Chicago attorney, is “basically the brains of the Bouts; he has run them for about 39 years.” He said that Johnson comes up with the fundraising, works closely with the captains and is instrumental in organizing and shaping the Bouts.

“Suddes has been with the program for about 35 years,” McGill said. “He comes to oversee practices and to the boxers. He’s the face of Bengal Bouts.”

Suddes, from Dublin, Ohio, commutes every week either just to show up for a practice or will bring his work with him and stay in South Bend for a few days so he can run several practices and work with the boxers, McGill said.

“Suddes leads one infamous practice where we do 1,000 pushups – and he does every one,” McGill said.

McGill said he has a profound respect for Johnson, Suddes and all of the volunteer coaches and would love to stay involved with the Bouts and work with future presidents and captains after he graduates.

McGill is one of six senior captains this year. Steve Hansen, Stu Stypula, Dan Ward, Mike Hennig and Chris Calderone are the other five, chosen by last year’s senior captains.

The three junior captains are Lawrence Sullivan, Hunter Land and Jesse Brawer.

“At the end of every year, the captains get together and look at who has the character to lead 200 guys in practice, to be role models for the novices but also to instruct them in their boxing and help them develop their skills,” McGill said of the captain selection process.

This year’s 200-some participants are more than the largest group in history, however. With eight returning champions and a number of returning finalists and semi-finalists, McGill said “it will probably be the most skill-filled boxing tournament” he’s been a part of.

Freshman Jason Miller, whom McGill said has shown great dedication to the team, is participating tonight in his first fight. Although boxing is “kind of out of character” for him, he said, he heard a lot of students talking about it at the activity fair in the fall and thought it sounded like fun.

“I actually don’t feel nervous at all,” Miller said. “I feel really well prepared and I’m excited to get in the ring.”

The preliminary rounds of the Bengal Bouts will be held tonight and tomorrow in the Joyce Center Fieldhouse beginning at 6:30. They are free and open to the public.

The quarterfinals will be held on Monday in the Joyce Center Fieldhouse at 6:30 p.m. The semifinals will be Feb. 28 in the Fieldhouse at 7:30 p.m and the finals will be Mar. 3 in the Joyce Center Arena at 8 p.m. Tickets for the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals can be purchased at the door.