At the conclusion of every practice, the captains shout out the Bengali word for strength and the rest of the boxers echo with the word for courage. And therein lies the essence of Bengals Bouts, which begins Sunday at 1 p.m. in the JACC with the preliminaries.
This post-practice ritual is symbolic of the Boxing Club as a whole. There is a group of boxers, sweaty and tired after a hard day's work, shouting motivational words in a foreign language. Yet the people who speak that foreign language, some 7,900 miles away, will receive the benefits of the strength and courage of these boxers.
Such strength and courage is needed to make it through the grueling season, which begins in October, when the novices head out to Stepan Field for the first practice, and goes through the beginning of March. At first, the emphasis is on conditioning, but as the season progresses, the focus shifts toward technique and skill.
"We still work [conditioning] in, but basically as tourney time gets closer and closer we want to make sure that people are getting quality ring-time experience," junior captain Jack Lally said. "So we have two sparring rings going [during practice] and guys need to start thinking about the actual fights themselves."
Whether it's conditioning or sparring, Bengal Bouts is far from the easiest extracurricular activity you'll find around campus. Boxers are required to attend four practices a week, but many students make it to five or six. The practices are predictably exhausting and making it through the whole season is a testament to a boxer's commitment, according to senior captain and co-president Kevin Ortenzio.
"The athletic side, as you can tell, is no easy pushover," Ortenzio said. "Through the workouts, you've put in your own commitments and therefore your own sufferings and whether it's blood, sweat or tears, all of that goes into these practices in preparation for what could be only four minutes of actual boxing action."
When tournament time rolls around, boxers are grouped by weight into 13 or 14 brackets of 16 with each bracket making up one weight class. All boxers will fight in the preliminary round Sunday, with the winners advancing to the quarterfinals on Feb. 22. The quarterfinal winners then move onto the semifinals, where the best of the best square off with the hope of making it to the final round.
Lally said the increased competitiveness leads to better fights.
"The better guys usually win [each round] so the competition gets stiffer and stiffer and the fights get better and better," Lally said. "[It culminates] with the final round in Purcell Pavilion, which is really great. [Those bouts] are always a lot of fun because that's where we get huge crowds and really pack that facility."
The large crowds lead to revenue, all of which gets sent to the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh. The Boxing Club donated around $140,000 last year and hopes to top that mark with this year's bouts. Each of the roughly 200 boxers is required to raise a minimum of $500 by selling tickets and ad space for the program.
After getting sent to Bangladesh, the money is distributed between 13 different parishes that decide how to use the donations. Ortenzio had the opportunity to see firsthand where the proceeds go when he traveled to Bangladesh over the summer on a trip organized through the International Summer Service Learning Program. One visit to northern Bangladesh, during which he met the Garo people, particularly struck a chord with Ortenzio.
"When they accepted us into their home, they had these ritual dances and all these cultural events and activities to welcome us," Ortenzio said. "But the funny thing was those cultural events and the ceremonies they had were held in this multipurpose building that they use for these ceremonies, as well as for classes. Essentially, it was one of the buildings that was used on a regular, day-to-day basis by the community and it was pretty much funded by the Bengal Bouts.
"It was sort of the thing what goes around comes around. The exact building that the celebration is in on our behalf is the actual building that we helped contribute to."
Seeing the effect Bengal Bouts has had on those less fortunate has certainly been a life-changing experience, Ortenzio said.
"I'll certainly look back on this as an honor and a blessing to be a part of this program," Ortenzio said. "Without it, I think I would be a whole different person and I have the whole Notre Dame community to thank for this opportunity. It's only a university like Notre Dame that can put this together and make it run so that it's a benefit for all of society."
The bell to kick off the preliminary round rings Sunday at 1 p.m. in the Joyce Center.
Contact Mike Monaco at email@example.com