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Thursday, June 13, 2024
The Observer

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Junior Bengal Bouts captains lead historic fundraising effort

After competing all weekend in the Queen City Tune Up in Rock Hill, South Carolina, with the Notre Dame Ultimate Frisbee Club, junior Bengal Bouts captain Michael Rauch groggily stretches his left arm to silence the 8:30 a.m. alarm emanating from his phone resting on the bedside nightstand. With a deep breath, he channels his focus and motivation to leap out from under the covers and prepare for a full slate of mechanical engineering courses, club meetings and athletics practices.

As has become tradition, Rauch celebrates making it through the last class of the day with a 2 p.m. pit stop at the North Dining Hall Grab and Go. A ham and havarti cheese sandwich with beef jerky and a blue Powerade sports freezer bar has become his snack of choice, helping him load up on protein and replenish electrolytes.

Two hours later, Rauch enters the Joyce Center and descends a flight of stairs into the Pit, Notre Dame’s boxing practice gym and the home of the historic Bengal Bouts. Soon, over 70 student boxers will fill the space with sounds of sharp exhalation after each jab, muffled thuds of gloves striking pads and the rapid-fire snap of jump ropes smacking against the padded floor.

All four walls of the boxing practice gym capture the essence of the sport. Upon entering, all eyes are immediately drawn straight ahead to the three rows of black boxing gloves lining the entirety of the back wall. Each boxer is drawn to one particular pair of gloves, much like a wizard is drawn to their wand in “Harry Potter.”

After checking in with president Nicholas Buhay and completing administrative duties that come with being a captain, Rauch strides toward the wall of mirrors on the left side of the gym to coach shadowboxing. Rauch said he believes this personal training helps him connect with his boxers and motivate them to push past exhaustion during drills.

“I’ve learned the power of a name from jobs in the past, that learning a name is one of the greatest things you can do as a leader,” Rauch said. “I spent the first couple of weeks just trying to learn names and be like, ‘Hey, Caleb, let’s keep going, you’re putting in the work,’ or ‘Great work, John, keep pushing.’”  

Once on a first-name basis with a boxer, Rauch said they feel more comfortable asking for advice or a sparring session.

Exhilarated by any opportunity to step foot in the ring, junior captain Matthew Turzai can often be found leading sparring sessions in the makeshift ring off to the gym’s right.

“[When sparring,] I’ll typically do like four rounds of a minute and 30 seconds because that’s realistic tournament speed,” Turzai said. “It’s three rounds in a bout, but I like to do the four rounds to push myself. If I push myself through four rounds in practice, I can do three rounds in the tournament.” 

As the apparel captain and self-proclaimed desk jockey, Turzai’s other responsibilities include designing the official Bengal Bouts merchandise and scheduling daily sparring sessions

“It’s been really cool seeing people wear boxing merch on campus,” he said. “Goodness knows my mom has more than her fair share.”

In addition to his work with Bengal Bouts, Turzai, a computer science major, acts as Keenan Hall vice president and serves in the Navy ROTC, with plans to join the Navy as a commissioned officer specializing in submarines or nuclear surface warfare after graduation.

To stay on top of his responsibilities, he turns to his trusty Excel spreadsheets and connections made through Bengal Bouts.

“There’s a group of six or seven of my close friends from ROTC, Keenan, computer science and boxing and we have each other’s back to work on stuff together, so that’s fun,” Turzai said.

Though they have given so much time and effort to the club, Rauch and Turzai agree that the personal development and sense of community they developed from boxing far outweighs their personal sacrifices. Now, they seek to help others benefit from the club as much as they have.

“One of the coolest things about Bengal Bouts is it takes an individualistic sport and it makes it a community,” Rauch said. “In the ring, it’s only you. We could lose focus on the community and the greater mission that we have, but we retain that sense of community.”

Turzai said he appreciates the opportunity to give back to the club, as his older teammates have in the past.

“Bengal Bouts have helped me learn the importance of dedication and sacrifice,” Turzai said. “If you’re not giving it your all, you’re going to find yourself coming up short from where you want to be from a fulfillment perspective...It’s been really cool this year to see things come full circle. As a freshman, I had dudes in boxing I looked up to who encouraged me to keep coming back and get better. Now, I get to corner for guys and spar with them to help them succeed. I always feel so happy and this sense of accomplishment to see their growth and give back to them the way the older guys did with me.”

Beyond each individual fighter’s goal of finding glory in the ring come tournament time, they share a greater, collective goal of raising money to support Holy Cross missions in Bangladesh.

“Not only are the guys competing to win the tournament, but we’re also competing together for a common goal to raise as much money as possible,” Turzai said.

Rauch, who spent eight weeks on a mission trip with the Congregation of Holy Cross in Bangladesh, said he shares Turzai’s dedication to supporting the Holy Cross in providing education and health care to the people of Bangladesh.

“It was really incredible to see the work we’re doing in Bangladesh,” Rauch said. “The moment that stood out most to me came while visiting this drug rehabilitation center that the Holy Cross Brothers run. That was a mission I hadn’t really heard of before, but knowing that Holy Cross, their big mission is education, but it’s not just education. They’re truly about educating the heart and the mind, caring for people both in their hearts and their minds, and being able to see the physical manifestation of that was incredible.”

When it comes to fundraising, the third junior captain, Creed Leathers, boasts an incredible track record.

As a former Fisher senator, vice president of the Fisher Poetry Society and chapel band triangle player, Leathers is a man of many talents. Although he was interested in pursuing boxing in high school, he could not find a gym to join in his hometown of Gretna, Nebraska. With the abundance of opportunities available at Notre Dame, Leathers had no issue finding clubs that catered to his greatest passions.

“Coming to Notre Dame, I wanted to find a club with some type of philanthropy aspect because we have so many different ways to get involved and give back to different communities,” Leathers said. “Bengal Bouts kills two birds with one stone combining philanthropy with my love for athletics. I get to learn how to box as well as give back to the Holy Cross missions in Bangladesh, which is something that really meant a lot for me.”

Leathers committed himself fully to the fundraising effort his freshman year, collecting over $2,000 in donations. Despite being one of the highest contributors during his first year with the club and receiving immense praise from upperclassmen leaders, Leathers said he felt somewhat disappointed with his fundraising total.

“I had a lot of fun my freshman year, but I felt like I left a lot on the table,” Leathers said. “I didn’t know if I could ever win the whole tournament, but I was pretty confident that I could be the number one fundraiser.”

Leathers wasted no time making his goal reality, raising over $9,300 as a sophomore, leading all club members. He attributes his success to personable phone calls to friends and family that explain the importance of the Holy Cross missions. 

“My biggest tip for the young guys is just picking up the phone and calling people that aren’t strangers,” Leathers said. “They really appreciate a phone call, much more than a text or email. Cut out five minutes of your day and have that conversation to explain the importance of what you’re doing and they’ll feel proud of you.”

Though spending the spring semester in Ireland, Leathers has raised $3,750 so far this year. Unsurprisingly, he works most closely with the fundraising team, devising a new strategy to maximize donations by obtaining corporate sponsorships and splitting fighters into pods based on their dorm, tapping into their competitive spirit.

“Right now, we’ve raised over $180,000 and I think the friendly competition with the pods has helped with that,” Leathers said. “At this time last year, we had $140,000, and that ended up being our highest total ever, so we’re $40,000 ahead and on-pace for a record-breaking season.” 

Despite being on the precipice of consecutive donation records, Leathers said he knows the organization can still take their fundraising efforts to another level next year when he returns to Notre Dame.

“My two goals as a senior would be to win the tournament and to beat whatever record we set in fundraising this year,” Leathers said. “Like I said, it’s somewhat of a competition, and the senior captains always want to beat the guys from the last year. For the last three or four years, we’ve just been setting record after record, and I don’t want to break that tradition.”

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