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‘It’s all about making each other better’: Junior captains prepared to lead club ahead of tournament

Ahead of the Baraka Bouts tournament next week, there is plenty of excitement among this year’s group of junior captains, who are eager to serve as leaders for their first time as a part of the club.

Frankie Masciopinto, who is majoring in peace studies and political science and currently resides in McGlinn Hall, emphasized the great community that Baraka Bouts has.

“I think the club fosters a great community and a really great group of girls,” Masciopinto said.

Nicole Lies, who majors in chemical engineering and lives in Welsh Family Hall, also praised the Baraka Bouts community.

“It’s very much a supportive community,” Lies said. “We are competing at the end of the day, but we all just want each other to get better and work out and have fun as a team.”

Baraka Bouts seeks to raise money for Holy Cross missions in East Africa. This year, the goal is to raise money for new dorms at Saint Joseph’s Hill Secondary School in Kyarusozi, Uganda.

Currently, the school has more kids than they can house, which has led to some kids not having dorm rooms and having to sleep in common spaces instead.

Emily Nowak, who is majoring in ACMS and lives in McGlinn, serves as one of the leaders for the missions. Nowak described some of the problems that Saint Joseph’s currently has and what the mission seeks to do.

“Currently, they have kids right now that are sleeping in rec rooms and hallways and very makeshift spaces. All of those kids that aren’t in regular dorm spaces will have a room plus there will be room for expansion,” Nowak said. “The mission is important to all of us.”

Sarah Nowak, a physics major living in Welsh Family Hall, explained how the importance of dorm life at Notre Dame has made this year’s mission that much more meaningful.

“I think as a Notre Dame student, for all of us, I know that dorm life is a huge part of our life here. That’s something that’s kind of unique to Notre Dame,” Nowak said. “I think it’s really special that we can give that back, specifically since we’re so big into dorm life here at ND. I think it’s really special that specifically, that is what we’re working towards this year.”

JJ Jorgensen, who resides in Lewis Hall and is majoring in management consulting, acknowledged that some new members are afraid to get into the ring initially but raising money for charity and the lessons learned from it make it all worth it.

“I think a lot of people realize through it that you test yourself, you meet a lot of cool people and you also get beat up for charity. I don’t think there’s any better way to raise money than to get out there and give it your all,” Jorgensen said.

Ellie Hammerschmitt, a science business major in Pasquerilla East Hall, echoed Jorgensen’s response and stressed the importance of the mission statement to each of the members of the club.

“We’re beating each other up and getting black eyes along the way, but it’s for a good cause at the end of the day, so it kind of makes it more worthwhile,” Hammerschmitt said.

Masciopinto said that one of the club’s biggest selling points is the mission statement because it allows students to make an impact on someone other than themselves.

“The most holistically Notre Dame thing you can do is to be a part of this club. Because not only are we participating in a unique sport and empowering each other, but we’re also doing something for the greater good, not just for ourselves,” Masciopinto said.

The club hopes to raise $75,000 for the mission by the time the tournament ends, and as of Sunday, they have already raised $46,000.

Lies is pleased with the amount the club has fundraised so far, and she hopes that donations continue to come in during the week leading up to the tournament.

“Fundraising has been coming in super fast because everyone’s getting excited for the tournament and kind of remembering what the missions are all about,” Lies said.

This is the first year in a leadership position for the junior captains, and Jorgensen explained that it has been fun having younger athletes ask her for advice on technique. 

“Having people come up to me and ask to spar me specifically, so I can help them out with their technique, it’s not only an honor, but it’s a great chance to step up as a leader in the club,” Jorgensen said.

Lily Whitman, who majors in neuroscience and resides in Lyons Hall, has enjoyed seeing her teammates improve throughout the season and gain more confidence both inside and outside of the ring. 

“One of the most fulfilling parts of leadership is seeing how the boxers that we’re teaching have developed throughout the season, whether they’re novices or they’re returning veterans. It’s been amazing to see not only a growth in their own technique but also their confidence both inside and outside the ring,” Whitman said.

As the tournament approaches, boxers have had to decide who they want to have in their corner to give advice and cheer them on throughout the fight. As a captain, Masciopinto has enjoyed being asked to corner younger athletes.

“We’re getting to the point where boxers choose who they’re going to have in their corner for the tournament. Something that’s very fulfilling is to have someone say they’ve put you down as a corner option,” Masciopinto said. “To have someone ask us for help or ask us to support them while they do the hardest part of this club is awesome.”

Jorgensen added that she thinks the junior captains are a great group because each one of them has a very different leadership style in the captain role.

“I think what’s great about our group of junior girls is all of us are really different. I think we all have different teaching and leadership styles. There’s a leader for everyone in the club that everyone can relate to. I think we just have a great mix of people,” Jorgensen said.

Each captain shared their favorite memory during their time with Baraka Bouts.

Lies said that her favorite memory was the Power Twelve Hour fundraiser from last year, in which the club stood outside of the bookstore for twelve straight hours doing different workouts and drills to try to raise money for the missions.

“I had so much fun at that fundraiser, but it really showed me everything that our club embodies and encompasses between the workouts, the training, the fundraising and the team bonding that was happening while having fun outside the bookstore,” Lies said. “That’s what really helped me fall in love with the club and fall in love with all the different parts of what it is.”

Sarah Nowak said her favorite aspect of the club has been its emphasis on body positivity and female empowerment.

“Our main mission is fundraising and helping those schools in Uganda. But we also really stress body positivity and female empowerment,” Nowak said. “The fact that our weights are so public and weight classes are such a big part of the sport, it’s been nice to see how everybody’s getting more comfortable with it. You evaluate your body based on what it can do and how it can perform, not how it looks or anything else. So that’s been really rewarding.”

According to Nowak, the first night of the bouts last season became her favorite memory with the club, especially since there hadn’t been a tournament during her freshman year because of the pandemic.

“My bout that night I lost terribly, but the environment and seeing the way the club comes together and the way the Notre Dame community comes together and how excited people get about it was really cool,” Nowak said. “I was not prepared at all for the energy in Dahnke, [Ballroom] and I was really blown away by just how fun and special that night was.”

Whitman echoed Nowak and said that the tournament last season was her favorite memory after not realizing the full scope of the club her freshman year.

“Sparring and preparing for the tournament was really exciting, but I was really nervous to step up in front of everyone,” Whitman said. “And Dahnke [Ballroom] was really intimidating. But going out and doing that on the first night and being in the ring no matter the outcome and just showing how hard I was working throughout the semester on something that I loved was really empowering.”

Hammerschmitt said that her favorite memory became fun run Fridays when the club runs around on gameday Fridays and does workouts across campus while raising money for the mission.

“It’s fun to be a part of something where we’re going around and we’re not just doing it to get ourselves noticed, but we’re getting money for the cause and for the mission,” Hammerschmitt said. “And when people hear that there’s a group of 100 girls running around raising money with stupid pink buckets, it’s funny because people actually get excited back.”

Masciopinto shared that her favorite memory occurred last year when she stayed after practice for the first time to spar and learn from an older captain.

“She was super encouraging. It was definitely very difficult at first because I had never done it. But it made me realize that a huge chunk of this club is learning from people that are basically your age and are amateurs of the sport too,” Masciopinto said. “You’re all just kind of figuring out something together. The leadership that she showed made me want to be more invested and keep going with that and actually compete.”

Jorgensen shared that her favorite memory was in the second round of last year’s tournament when she got beaten pretty badly by her opponent. Initially, Jorgensen said she was frustrated and embarrassed by the loss, but her opponent was very nice to her at the end of the fight and it ended up highlighting to Jorgensen what the true purpose of Baraka Bouts is.

“The way she carried herself after beating me, made me understand that it’s all about learning. It’s all about getting better. It’s all about making each other better. It’s not about going in there and beating each other up. It’s about fundraising and working towards something bigger than yourself,” Jorgensen said. “It’s okay to go in the ring and lose or not do well, but as long as you learn something and get something out of it, then that’s the whole point of this. I think it really changed my whole perspective on what it means to get into the ring and spar [with] other people. I think that is something I’ll always walk away with as being really valuable.”

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