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Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024
The Observer

Bengal Bouts president Jack Phillips looks to prove himself in the ring

Bengal Bouts president Jack Phillips came to Notre Dame to develop friendships in his dorm, Knott Hall, and to study finance, data science and sociology — not to relive his high school glory days back in Collegeville, Pennsylvania.

But during his first year at the University, Phillips, like many who grow up playing sports, craved that feeling of team companionship upon arriving at college. So, Phillips joined Bengal Bouts his first semester on campus.

“I think a lot of people join Bengal Bouts, and part of the reason I did was I just missed that team feeling of high school sports,” Phillips said.

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Courtesy of Bengal Bouts
Senior and president Jack Phillips will fight in this year's annual bouts for the first time since his freshman year.


Phillips did not quite understand all he was signing himself up for, but his inclination about where he’d find his community at Notre Dame was spot on.

“I came in with no expectation, just looking for a group of guys that had that camaraderie together,” Phillips said. “I’ve more than found it. It’s developed into so much more than that. I think these guys will be friends for life.”

The sport of boxing teaches lessons of courage and strength. Inside the ring, boxers compete individually against one another. But by stepping up to a challenge, facing a fear and trying something new together, the boxers unite as a team.

“And as much as we’re going in the ring and punching each other in the face a little bit, outside the ring we have our backs,” Phillips said.

Phillips added that he even feels this rare closeness between fellow boxers with alumni of the 93-year-old club.

“All the time now I’m reaching out to alumni, past Bengal Bouters,” Phillips said. “It’s a Notre Dame network within the Notre Dame network, and it’s hard to explain to those that aren’t a part of it.”

Any renowned boxer, from Ali to Rocky, has got to have a chip on his shoulder. Phillips is no exception.

“I have something to prove as the president, having never competed too much in the bouts,” Phillips said.

During last year’s Bengal Bouts, Phillips was studying abroad in London. The year before, neither a tournament nor any sparring took place because of the pandemic.

“My freshman year I won my first bout against another senior,” Phillips said. “Then before the second round of the tournament, I had to drop out due to food poisoning against the captain that year.”

While Phillips is perhaps a little untested inside the ring, outside the ring is a different story. Before becoming president of the Bengal Bouts, Phillips served as a junior captain. 

Phillips explained that he was asked to take on leadership roles within Bengal Bouts because older members of the club saw his dedication to the greater purpose of the Bouts, which is to raise funds for the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh.

“The older guys recognized that I had that passion to continue advancing the club, building on the foundation of the last 92 years and hopefully leave it in a better place than we found it, which is the goal that you want to have coming into it every year,” Phillips said.

As Bengal Bouts president, Phillips has reinvigorated the club’s relationship with Fr. Tom Eckert and the Holy Cross Mission Center. After a several-year hiatus because of the pandemic, boxers from the club are again able to apply for an eight-week international fellowship with Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh.

“I’ve been working hard this year to send boxers back to Bangladesh for the first time since I’ve been at Notre Dame,” Phillips said. “The Center for Social Concerns is conducting interviews right now of boxers who applied to spend next summer there and be English teachers … We definitely had a lot of applicants, and we’re excited to get that rolling.”

With all the excitement Bengal Bouts bring to campus, starting Feb. 16 in the Dahnke Ballroom and ending March 4 in Purcell Pavilion, Phillips said the greater social impact of the club is too often overlooked.

“People can get excited by the lights,” Phillips said. “Our mission is two-pronged, right: to teach kids stuff that they’re completely unfamiliar with and test their courage here at Notre Dame. Secondly, boxing is the vehicle through which we achieve a much greater good.”

High-minded jargon aside, over 50 boxers will be stepping into the ring for the Bengal Bouts preliminaries Thursday night at 6 p.m. EST. Phillips said the club has focused this season on boxing safely, conservatively and defensively.

“We want to raise the level of professionalism and have an elevated technique to deliver the best product that we can but also to keep our guys safe,” Phillips said.

Phillips added that club captains drive home the necessity of footwork, head movement and blocking and defending punches to newer boxers.

“What we don’t want is a backyard brawl,” Phillips said.