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Fighters prepare for 89th-annual Bengal Bouts competition

| Thursday, February 14, 2019

On Thursday night in Purcell Pavilion, the Notre Dame Boxing Club will kick off the 89th-annual Bengal Bouts, which raise money for Holy Cross missions in Bangladesh.

Senior Ryan Richelsen, who is serving as captain and president of the club, said the boxing competition for male students began during the era of Knute Rockne.

“[Rockne] wanted a way to get his players in shape, better conditioning. Later on, it got its fundraising identity from coach Dominic ‘Nappy’ Napolitano in 1932,” Richelsen said. “Eighty-nine years later, we’re keeping up the physical aspect of the sport itself and sending money to the Holy Cross missions in Bangladesh.”

Junior captain Taylor Vucinich said he’s come to appreciate the way fighters unite with a common goal in mind.

“It’s really cool to see what a bunch of guys can do when they all come together,” Vucinich said. “That comes with the physical fitness and the fundraising. We’ll have 120 guys there on any given day. The workouts are really tough, but everyone’s doing it for the same mission.”

Every summer, four boxers travel to Bangladesh to spend two months at the Holy Cross mission there. Senior captain Cameron Nolan said the trip was the most transformative experience in his college career.

“These [missions] are largely rural, serving indigenous communities that are very often persecuted by the ethnic majority in Bangladesh,” Nolan said. “They provide education for the children and hostels if their homes are too far from school. The parishes serve as centers for so many of these tribal communities.”

Nolan’s time in Bangladesh helped him understand the importance of the boxing club as a fundraiser, he said.

“Ever since [the trip], I knew that this is a club that is bigger than myself,” Nolan said. “It is a force for good, and I realized my responsibility in working to make sure the club continues to grow, make money, train and grow students at the University.”

Vucinich said last year, the club incorporated a website called MobileCause, which keeps track of all the money donated in real time.

“The 19 days before the tournament, we have a goal of $19,000. Last year, we almost tripled our goal,” Vucinich said. “It’s really changed my view of the world. When you’re at Notre Dame, you’re in the bubble. So when you hear about all these guys who have ended up going to Bangladesh over the summer, you hear about the conditions there and that they really do need all the help they can get, it really changes your viewpoint.”

Knowing the money is important to the livelihood of others helps motivate the fighters in times of struggle, Richelsen said.

”Hearing about improvements we’d made by sending over our donations, that alone is a driving factor for myself and others,” he said. “When you can’t go anymore, you start doubting yourself, you have to think it’s about something greater than yourself.”

Nolan said his biggest takeaway from Bengal Bouts will be the growth he’s experienced, physically and emotionally.

“I’d have to say my favorite part is the intangibles,” Nolan said. “As a senior, watching the growth and discipline and maturity, knowing I was on the other side four years ago, it’s something I couldn’t have learned through anything else.”

Freshman Ross McIlvaine, who is entering into the Bengal Bouts ring for the first time Thursday night, said he feels ready for this experience.

“I’m just excited to do it, get in the ring,” McIlvaine said. “It’s been nerve-wracking, but we’ve been training for three months now, so I’m excited to just get it done.”

Now facing his final appearance in the ring at Notre Dame, Richelsen said the anticipation of the actual Bouts is incomparable.

“There’s nothing like the night of the tournament, getting in the ring,” he said. “Having four months of training lead up to a few minutes, all the time and training you’ve put in, just to perform and do your absolute best. When the lights come on and you enter that ring and you hear that bell, it all pays off.”

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