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Ready for round two

Tess Civantos | Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a three-part series about Terrence Rogers, a 1979 Notre Dame graduate who has returned as a graduate student with the goal of winning Bengal Bouts.

Terrence Rogers plans to become the oldest boxer ever to compete in the Bengal Bouts, after three attempts to win the boxing tournament as an undergraduate in the 1970s — and he could not have come this far without the influence of a few key people.

Rogers’ story begins as a 10-year-old with dreams of following his oldest brother to Notre Dame and being a boxing champion like his hero, Muhammad Ali.

“Me and my best friend were pint-size, but we thought we were Muhammad Ali,” Rogers said with a laugh. “We had our own boxing gloves, and we would go around the neighborhood beating up the other kids in boxing matches.”

Rogers kept that passion alive as an active athlete in high school. Rogers was a varsity wrestler at Chaminade High School, where he won the New York state championship for all private and Catholic schools in his senior year.

When college time came, despite Rogers’ Notre Dame dreams, his parents pushed him to attend West Point instead, he said. So Rogers was appointed to the United States Military Academy, where he continued to wrestle — and finally tried out boxing for the first time.

“West Point has a full boxing program, required for all first-year cadets,” Rogers said. “Most cadets wanted nothing to do with it, but I got an ‘A’ in the class.” 

Rogers didn’t join the West Point boxing club, but instead continued with varsity wrestling. Rogers’ dream of attending Notre Dame refused to die — but transferring schools was much harder than it sounds.

“I had family pressures keeping me at West Point, and the military had invested in me so they wanted me to stay,” Rogers said. “Most of all, West Point is paid for by a government scholarship. Who was going to pay for Notre Dame?”

Despite the pressures, Rogers finally transferred after his junior year at West Point, but maintained close connections to his West Point classmates. 

“The West Point community has been very supportive, giving me advice on how to box, and especially on how to box at my age,” Rogers said. “I have some distinct advantages and I intend to use them.”

Rogers paid for his entire Notre Dame education out of his own pocket. Although he had earned 116.5 class credits at West Point, Notre Dame’s rules required Rogers to enter Notre Dame as a junior, so he used those extra credits to graduate with two degrees – in electrical engineering and psychology. 

Earning two degrees at Notre Dame took five years total at that time. Because not all of Rogers’ credits applied to either the electrical engineering program or the psychology program, he had to spend two-and-a-half years at Notre Dame to get both degrees.

“That was fine with me, because it gave me an extra semester at Notre Dame and an extra year to fight in the Bengal Bouts,” Rogers said. 

After graduating, Rogers pursued a business career, but that was not enough, he said. As early as 1987, he became interested in a law career.

“I was doing it all for me, with my corporate career and as a bachelor for all those years,” Rogers said. He kept thinking of his father, an FBI agent, who worked to protect civil rights in the 1960s South.

“As an FBI agent, my dad was the enemy in some of those Southern states,” Rogers said. 

Rogers’ dad helped keep the peace during the Little Rock, Ark., school integration, Rogers said, and in 1952 he was in a gunfight on the streets of Manhattan with a criminal on the 10 Most Wanted list.

“My dad had a very colorful career,” Rogers said. “This was dangerous work. It was about fighting abuse of authority and protecting human rights. So as a law student, civil rights became my focus.”

Rogers’ dad inspired him to go to law school and to use his boxing skill to help the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh, Rogers said. But after several rejections, Rogers gave up on Notre Dame Law School. 

He instead graduated from St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas in 2007.

“It was so hard to get back in. I was competing with a pool of greater talent,” Rogers said. “I was accepted three times in the 1970s, then rejected 11 times. Then I came back strong like a fighter and got in.”

Rogers is now a student in the Master of Laws (LL.M.) in International Human Rights. That’s not the only change in his life — Rogers married for the first time in August 2009.

“I met Michelle at my 30-year West Point reunion,” Rogers said. “As a former Marine, she has the spirit to back me in this somewhat unusual endeavor. She’s a part of my story now.”

Muhammed Ali, West Point classmates and Rogers’ dad all influenced his quest to win the Bengal Bouts tournament — but today, his wife is his biggest support, Rogers said.

“She believes in me,” Rogers said. “She believes that I’m going to achieve what I want to achieve.”

After the influence that others have had on his quest, Rogers says it is his turn to inspire others.

“I will be fighting on behalf of the missions, on behalf of myself and on behalf of every 40-plus-year-old guy that wants to get a vicarious thrill out of this,” Rogers said. “Life doesn’t end at 40 or 50.”

The third and final installment of this series will examine Rogers’ current life as a Notre Dame graduate student and his goal of winning Bengal Bouts in 2011. It will run in tomorrow’s Observer.