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Bengal Bouts celebrates 80th year

MADELINE BUCKLEY | Friday, February 12, 2010

This year’s Bengal Bouts tournament, which begins this weekend, marks two milestones for the boxing club, as the group will celebrate its 80th anniversary and send its millionth dollar to the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh.

“There’s so much surrounding the club right now,” senior captain Michael Sayles said. “The goal is to raise $80,000 on the 80th.”

The club — started in 1920 by Knute Rockne — will hold the preliminary fights Saturday.
Sayles said the boxers are currently striving to hit that $80,000 mark, and making significant progress.

“There are more people participating this year than ever before,” he said. “The really unique thing about this is that we have so many people learning about a sport that not many people learn about these days, but we can also help out thousands of people.”

In order to raise money, each boxer is given 15 tickets to sell. Co-president and senior captain Patrick Burns said 199 students are fighting in this year’s tournament.

Burns said a high number of novice fighters joined the club this year — something he attributes to increased awareness for the service mission of the tournament.

Former boxing club president Mark Weber, a 2009 graduate, co-produced a documentary, “Strong Bodies Fight: Rough Cut,” to highlight the relationship Bengal Bouts has with the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh.

“I think it’s a good diversion. It’s a good service to the Missions. 200 guys have the opportunity to help out someone halfway across the world,” Burns said.

Co-president and senior captain Chris Cugliari said the club has been pushing to create a more “self-sustaining” relationship with the Holy Cross Missions in the country.

“Our help has been moving to something more along the lines of education and working to help and maintain build schools,” he said.

The boxing club recently teamed up with the Center for Social Concerns to establish an International Summer Service Learning Project in Bangladesh.

Along with its service component though, Cugliari said boxing is an opportunity for Notre Dame students to fulfill a competitive drive.

“A lot of guys come in with self doubts, not sure if they can cross certain boundaries, and when they go through training and step through the ropes in front of thousands of people it shows a lot about their growth and character,” he said.

For senior captain Nicholas Ponzio, four years as part of the club has offered a chance to build relationships.

“My freshman year, I won my first fight, and then my second fight was against a kid who became the president of team next year. I ended up losing, which was a humbling experience,” Ponzio said. “But he and I ended up being good friends, and we trained together the next year.”

Ponzio said the energy in the Joyce Center on the day of the fight brings him back every year, and is what he will most miss when he fights in his last tournament this week.

“There are two rings going at once, and all this yelling and screaming,” Ponzio said. “There’s just this certain atmosphere that comes with the start of the fights.”

Sayles said the best part of the fight is the support of his dorm, Sorin College.

“Having 70-plus guys from the dorm screaming your name is far and away the coolest thing,” Sayles said. “It’s just insane.”

Cugliari said boxing has a reputation as a violent sport, but the service and character-building aspect of the tournament offer a positive contribution to the Notre Dame community.

“Despite the reputation boxing might have as a brutal sport, it helps people push boundaries and really discover a lot about themselves. It’s a sport really helps people grow,” he said.

Sayles said Irish basketball coach Mike Brey will open the preliminaries with a few words, and the captains are working to procure another special guest to speak at the finals.

The preliminaries begin Saturday at 1 p.m. The quarterfinals will take place Feb. 16 at 6 p.m. and the semifinals, Feb. 23 at 6 p.m. The final fights will be Feb. 27 at 7 p.m.