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Bengal Bouts combats cyclone damage

Becky Hogan | Monday, February 25, 2008

Last November, the fierce winds of Cyclone Sidr slammed much of the already poverty-stricken Bangladesh, and beginning tonight approximately 185 young men are fighting back – in the boxing ring.

Hunter Land, president of the Boxing Club, said Notre Dame’s 78th annual Bengal Bouts tournament has even more meaning for its participants because the need for relief in Bangladesh is even greater this year.

“Our money is being put to good use over there … this year it’s not just going to the missions, schools and hospitals, but also to a lot of the country that’s in need [due to the cyclone]. We’re excited about that,” Land said.

Senior captain Patrick O’Brien said the aftermath of Cyclone Sidr gives the competitors more motivation.

“[The cyclone] makes it even more important to kick the fundraising into high gear, and it’s also something tangible that the boxers can focus on,” O’Brien said.

Since 1931, the proceeds earned from the Bengal Bouts tournament have gone to the Holy Cross brothers in Bangladesh who work to establish elementary and secondary schools, provide shelter to low-income families and provide medical care and outreach programs to the poor.

Former football coach Knute Rockne brought boxing to the University in 1920, but it wasn’t until 11 years later that coach Dominic Napolitano started using Bengal Bouts to raise funds for the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh.

According to Land, the club has already raised $55,000 – not including ticket sales. Land also said that donations are still coming in, and the Bouts hopes to raise even more money than last year.

“We donated $60,000 [to the Holy Cross missions] last year, and we’d love to donate more than that this year,” he said.

After all expenses have been accounted for, the Holy Cross missions receive the check from the proceeds of the tournament during the summer, Land said.

Funds come from tickets sales, advertisements sold in the tournament program, and donations from alumni clubs and individual supporters.

“Every year we have Bengal Bouts alumni that come back because they just can’t get enough of it,” Land said.

O’Brien said the 185 contenders in this year’s tournament make up the second largest group in the history of Bengal Bouts.

Boxers include both undergraduate and graduate students and the list of this year’s competitors even includes a 39-year old, O’Brien said.

Training for new boxers began last fall in the novice season, and the 300 potential participants that originally showed up have been whittled down to 185 contenders.

“A lot of the boxers are training five months for one night,” Land said.

O’Brien said what makes the Bouts so unique is that many of the participants train for five months only to fight for a few minutes.

In addition, practices from Bengal Bouts are held five times a week, and participants are only allowed to miss five practices during the regular season. Land said that most boxers would not participate if not for the charitable cause of the tournament.

“I think that the practices are so demanding that people would drop out more if it was just for them and not for someone else. They stick it out and continue with training when they know it’s for something beside themselves,” Land said.

O’Brien said while the workout sessions are certainly beneficial, knowing that he was helping someone was even more rewarding.

“For most of us, it’s the first time we’ve ever seen our ab muscles before. It’s so rewarding because win or lose, you know that it was the hardest you ever worked,” O’Brien said. “And even if you don’t win, you can always look back at how hard you worked, and that it was for someone else.”

Land said the intensity of the boxers makes the tournament competitive year after year.

“The participants take [Bengal Bouts] really seriously,” Land said. “[Boxing] is the most pure sport – just two guys in the ring…nothing pays off more for boxing than hard work. They push themselves as hard as they can.”