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Friday, March 1, 2024
The Observer

Brotherhood and service: Bengal Bouts senior captains on their mission, teamwork

The boxing club at Notre Dame was started by Knute Rockne in 1920 as off-season conditioning for his football team. However, the Bengal Bouts truly found their identity when they began serving the large minority Catholic community in Bangladesh in 1931. The Congregation of Holy Cross runs schools, churches and healthcare facilities throughout Bangladesh and all of the Bengal Bouts fundraising benefit the communities they serve.

The Bengal Bouts motto, “strong bodies fight, that weak bodies may be nourished,” coined by Dominic “Nappy” Napolitano, the 1930-1931 boxing coach at Notre Dame, is still revered by the Bengal Bouts today and reminds them of their commitment to the Bangladeshi people.

The Bengal Bouts have set their fundraising goal at $250,000 this year and have been fundraising and preparing for the tournament since the fall. The mission of the Bengal Bouts is at the center of their community and drives the spirit of the club throughout the year.

The Bengal Bouts senior captains have been leading the team in preparing for the tournament and fundraising for the Holy Cross Congregation missions in Bangladesh all year and are anticipating an exciting tournament this year.

Watch the tournament on Feb. 24, Mar. 1 and Mar. 28 at 7 p.m. in the Dahnke Ballroom at the Duncan Student Center.  

Terrance Cameron

A senior from Oyster Bay, New York, Terrance Cameron, formerly from Sorin College, has taken on a captain role in his fourth and final year with the club. Joining the club his first year at the recommendation of his resident assistant, Cameron said he quickly fell in love with the Bengal Bouts and their mission. As a captain, Cameron has embraced the social aspect of the club.

“People go to the dining hall after practice together, or they come in early, they work together...," he said. “The guys will go out of their way to help anybody else, just for the love of the club or the sport or just for helping a friend out. So, it’s just been really awesome. The guys are all great.”

Being a captain has allowed Cameron to help more of his teammates improve this year, he said.

“A lot of times in boxing, it is individual and you’re working on yourself and you can’t really get better unless you put in the work yourself. But as a captain, there’s a lot of times where you don’t have that opportunity and you’re helping others because that’s kind of your role,” he said. “It’s just been honestly even better for me. I [have] learned so much more teaching other people and it’s just a ton of fun to help people out and get people better at boxing even if I have so much more to learn.”

After having a year without a tournament, Cameron is looking forward to the upcoming Bengal Bouts this week, despite the nerves that come with it.

“I think there is a lot of pressure to do well, when you’re the one teaching kids how to box, you know, having a kid that you taught all year just beat you,” he said. “The people don’t expect that. But obviously, it happens all the time. Because these kids are good. So, yeah, I’m nervous, but I’m super excited. I mean, it’s been a while since I’ve been in the ring.”

For Cameron, Bengal Bouts is about more than boxing. It’s about the mission to Bangladesh and improving as a person outside the ring, in addition to inside the ring. 

“I can always be better. Nobody’s ever the best boxer, nobody’s ever the best at fundraising,” he said. “Nobody’s ever the best at what they do. We’ve got to just keep pushing, trying to be better every day.”

Max ‘Putin’s Ukrainian Nightmare’ Chuma 

Maximilian Chuma, a senior captain of Bengal Bouts, formerly from O’Neill Family Hall, hails from New Hope, Pennsylvania. Chuma joined Bengal Bouts his sophomore year and has since grown to love the brotherhood and mission of the Bengal Bouts.

“Being able to call myself a Notre Dame boxer, I think, is a title that is earned and never given ... And that comes in many different shapes and forms, you know — you don’t have to compete in the tournament to be a Notre Dame boxer,” he said. “It’s just that dedication and that support of the mission, so I think, as a whole, just knowing that I was a part of something that great will be my fondest feeling that I walk away with.”

Chuma said being named the marketing captain of the Bengal Bouts felt like an honor. His time as captain has thus far been a fulfilling experience and one of reflection, he said.

“Knowing that I did rise to that occasion, I challenged myself and I stuck with it...,” he said. “And there’s tough days, but you walk out with the best friends that you could ever imagine and a club that will stick with me for the rest of my life.”

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has presented significant challenges to the club, but Chuma explained how they have persevered.

“We set a very ambitious goal of $250,000 to raise for this year,” he said. “And I think that lit a huge fire under the guys because we want to let people know that the 92nd year was the year [in which] we rose from the ashes of COVID and were able to have not only a successful tournament, but we carried on the mission more than anyone would expect us to.”

While Chuma will be facing other boxers in the ring in the upcoming Bengal Bouts tournament, he also has an enemy outside the ring he is unafraid to send a clear message to. The enemy: Putin.

A second-generation American citizen whose four grandparents were Ukrainian refugees during World War II, he has adopted the nickname of “Putin’s Ukrainian nightmare.” His first language is Ukrainian, he attended Ukrainian school through senior year of high school and he is currently the vice president of the Ukrainian society of Notre Dame, he said.

“Given the situation in Ukraine right now, Putin just announced ... that he will be invading Eastern Ukraine and the separatist regions, I think it’s very fitting that I hold a name that is true to my heritage, true to my family’s heritage and their story,” he explained.

He said he is hoping to use the nature of the tournament to send a message.

“I am not afraid of the political debates that surround my family’s home country,” he added. “And, you know, home is something worth fighting for. My culture is worth something worth fighting for.”

Hayden Hoekstra

A senior captain from Loomis, California, Hayden Hoekstra, formerly from Morrissey Hall, said he has found a mission he believes in and a lifelong community in Bengal Bouts.

“I’ve forged some great friendships that I’m gonna cherish for the rest of my life, with other captains, but honestly with everyone else in the club as well,” Hoekstra said. 

The pandemic posed a challenge to Hoekstra last season, but he looked forward to being captain this year and reuniting with the club fully in person, especially as a captain.

“[Being a captain] has just been a great way to kind of get out of COVID, be able to interact with so many different types of people and be [a] role model for some people — it’s just been really cool,” he said. “During COVID, you’re so disconnected from people, and then being a captain, I feel like I could connect with so many other people. So, it was really rewarding.”

Hoekstra has not competed since sophomore year, due to the pandemic, but he said he is looking forward to returning to the ring.

“I couldn’t be more excited. Honestly, last time I competed was sophomore year. And I’ve had a lot of work to do since sophomore year,” he said. “So, I’ve been thinking about it, really, since that last fight. All the work I’ve been putting in is going to come out very nicely. It’ll be fun. I got my eye on the prize.”

Hoekstra, who plans to be a pilot in the Navy, emphasized that ROTC and Bengal Bouts share not just physical and workout aspects, but also values of leadership and service.

“There’s some similarities that I’ve really fallen in love with. The biggest thing I noticed is that it’s an internal sport for the most part,” he said. “So, everything I put in today is kind of all I got — I don’t have a teammate to come and help me out in the ring. It’s kind of all or nothing. It’s the same way in the military: You got your buddies that will be there for you all the time. But at the end of the day, it’s kind of your opportunity, your job to put out to them. And I’ve really felt kind of challenged and also just a lot of growth from the club in that atmosphere.”

The Bengal Bouts’ commitment to service is something that Hoekstra said he holds close, especially as a ROTC student.

“With joining the military, this has really shown me that a lot of things we do in life are for other people, and it’s really rewarding,” he said. “So, ... just turning what I’ve been doing here into what I’m going to be doing for the country is probably one of the big things I’m taking from Bengal Bouts.”