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Strong bodies still fight

| Thursday, February 26, 2015

Throughout its 85-year history, the Notre Dame men’s boxing club’s annual Bengal Bouts tournament has become synonymous with the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh. The program is notorious for the intense effort and heart seen inside the ring, as well as the deep sense of brotherhood fostered between members of the boxing team. And although the purpose and camaraderie of Bengal Bouts have remained the same, the program has evolved in a variety of ways. Some changes have been simple. The shorts are longer, and the headgear is more advanced, both of which are greatly appreciated by the boxers (and their mothers). The size of the team has grown from 20 students to as large as 200. Fundraising has risen dramatically, with $100,000 becoming the new annual benchmark to reach over the last five years.

The relationship between Bengal Bouts and Bangladesh has perhaps undergone the most significant transformation. For the first 75 years of the program, no student from the Notre Dame men’s boxing team had ever personally traveled to Bangladesh. This all changed in 2008, when then-club president Mark Weber and several boxers traveled to Bangladesh to film what would become the “Strong Bodies Fight” documentary — a film detailing the relationship between Bengal Bouts and the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh. Weber’s trip to Bangladesh produced more than his documentary. It also began the club’s collaboration with the Center for Social Concern’s (CSC) International Summer Service Learning Program (ISSLP) in 2009. Thanks to the generosity of alumni and leadership at the CSC, four boxers have traveled to Bangladesh to teach English at a Holy Cross parish each summer. As a result, these boxers have had the opportunity to witness the tangible effects of Bengal Bouts in Bangladesh. Through their experiences, these boxers have become ambassadors for Bengal Bouts, serving as an important link between the boxing team and the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh. This enhanced relationship has led to a deeper understanding of the club’s mission for all boxers, which in turn has resulted in more successful fundraising.

The slogan of the men’s boxing team, “Strong bodies fight, that weak bodies may be nourished,” has also evolved. What began as a way to raise money for starving people in Bangladesh has transformed into something far greater. As any boxer who has had the privilege to travel to Bangladesh will tell you, the bodies and minds of those they serve over the summer are far from weak. Bangladesh is a nation marked by resilience, and Bengal Bouts joins these people in their fight for education, medicine, development and dignity. The money raised by Bengal Bouts funds projects such as the new Notre Dame College in Mymensingh, medical clinics, tuition payments, self-sustaining technical schools that equip students with the skills necessary to build successful careers and other efforts that have a sustainable impact on the lives of the thousands of people. Today, “Strong Bodies Fight” side by side with Holy Cross Missions to provide a better future for the people of Bangladesh.

Around 60 years ago, legendary Sports Illustrated writer Budd Schulberg wrote about Bengal Bouts: “Go see the Notre Dame Bengal Bouts. You’ll see boys battling harder for the University championships than some heavyweights have fought for the championship of the world. … Here are boys who will fight their hearts out … for pride and the pure sport of it.”

So in this 85th year, we ask for your continued support of our program. Our shorts may be longer and our slogan shorter, but our mission is deeper. The intense effort and heart Budd Schulberg noted 60 years ago is still on full display, and it is a joy to watch. Now, 85 years later, strong bodies continue to fight. We fight to educate, to empower and to create opportunity for our brothers and sisters in Christ in Bangladesh. Join our fight. See you at the finals at Purcell Pavilion this Friday.

Connor Chclsky


Alumni Hall

Feb. 24

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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