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Men in the arena

| Thursday, March 1, 2018

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena … who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause.”

When President Theodore Roosevelt delivered his “Man in the Arena” speech in 1910, he could not have had in mind the Bengal Bouts, which would begin two decades later. But his assertion still rings true.

For the past four months, more than 200 men have trained so that they might become part of one of Notre Dame’s oldest and greatest traditions. And on Friday night, 20 boxers will compete in the championship round of the 88th annual Bengal Bouts. While only 10 people (i.e. less than 5 percent of the club) will end the season as the winner for their weight division, there is not one single loser — not when thousands of impoverished children in Bangladesh will benefit from the approximately $200,000 raised through club members’ combined efforts.

Bengal Bouts does immense good, not only for the Bengali people served by the Holy Cross Missions, but it also enriches the boxers themselves. As a coach, I’m beyond grateful to have been blessed to witness profound transformations. The boxer who hardly spoke a word in the gym his first year, gains self-confidence through his experience in the club and emerges as a leader in the program and in his dorm, becoming an RA. The boxer who takes up the sport during his final year as a way to cope with personal tragedy, finds a passion that he never expected. The boxer who, as a freshman, was dedicated nearly exclusively to winning a championship, then becomes an ardent leader driven to do as much as he can for his teammates and for his friends in Bangladesh.

The remarkable men and women who come out of Notre Dame’s Boxing Clubs testify to the many ways this uniquely Notre Dame tradition brings to life the University’s mission statement. Bengal Bouts and Baraka Bouts cultivate in their boxers “a disciplined sensibility to the poverty, injustice and oppression that burden the lives of so many … creat[ing] a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice.”

There are many reasons, tangible and subtle, why ND Boxing is so formative, but there are two moments on fight night that I think capture a lot of what makes it so special. Immediately before walking into the ring, the boxers will sit backstage and receive a blessing from the club chaplain. Yes, right before heading into competition, every boxer will sit shoulder to shoulder with his “opponent” and enter into prayer together. Then, after having traded punches for three rounds, the competitors will return to the center of the ring to embrace with — as any former Bengal Bouts boxer could attest — a deepened respect for each other, their teammate.

For those of you who have never attended a Bengal Bouts match, I would encourage you to check out the finals in person. For those who cannot attend, perhaps you’ll consider streaming it on WatchESPN. I would be surprised if you came away disappointed. Seeing a boxer’s friends shouting encouragement from ringside, the competitors pushing themselves to their limits in service of a larger cause and the respect that each boxer has for another, is nothing short of inspiring.

Although I can only guess as to the results of the championship bouts, I can confidently offer the following prediction for those who will watch: You will see men who will strive valiantly, who will know great enthusiasms, who will showcase their devotion and who will, most definitely, spend themselves in a worthy cause.

Matt Gelchion 

Men’s boxing coach

Feb. 28

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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