Strong bodies fight at Notre Dame Bengal Bouts, that weak bodies may be nourished

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — You could say Parker Revers took one on the chin shortly after his arrival on the Notre Dame campus as a freshman in the fall of 2016.

“I’ve always had the mentality to do what you don’t want to do,” said Revers, a senior who participated in speech and debate at Cherry Creek High School in Denver and was looking for an off-hours activity away from his history studies.

For Revers it meant being willing to take a punch to his gut or to his chin or to his nose, and sometimes to all three for charity.

Enter the Notre Dame Boxing Club. Revers got hooked on intramural boxing, though not so hard he couldn’t get up before the mandatory eight count had expired.

There’s something to be said about enduring long hours of intense and very physical training for perhaps 18 minutes of glory inside a padded boxing ring. And the biggest reward, other than the championship belt you might receive, is knowing you will be helping someone less fortunate than yourself living on the other side of the world.

That’s why Revers counts himself all in on the mission of the club’s Bengal Bouts, which have benefitted the Holy Cross Missions of Bangladesh for decades now to the tune of more than $2 million. The bouts’ founder, the late Dominic “Nappy” Napolitano, used to rally his charges with these words: “Strong bodies fight that weak bodies may be nourished.”

The 90th edition of the Bengal Bouts begins a four-session run this Thursday night with preliminary matches in the Purcell Pavilion of the Joyce Center. Quarterfinals (Feb. 17) and semifinals (Feb. 24) are set for the Dahnke Family Ballroom in the Duncan Student Center (Notre Dame Stadium) with the championship finals Feb. 29 back in Purcell. All sessions start at 7 p.m.

More than 200 students participate in boxing – and yes, that includes female students who stage their annual Baraka Bouts in November to benefit the Holy Cross parishes in Uganda.

Through the years, the students have shown their human greatness and even “The Greatest” took time to recognize them before he passed. During the 1980s, Berrien Springs resident Muhammad Ali would often drive down to spend winter evenings watching the Bengal Bouts in person.

At the conclusion of his freshman year in 2017, Revers got a chance to go to Bangladesh, a South Asian country the size of Wisconsin surrounded by India with a population of 165 million. Five hours north and east of the capital of Dhaka (population 9 million) is Sreemangal, the so-called tea capital of the country where Revers and fellow student boxer Jackson Wrede taught English classes during the morning and then trained in heat indexes nearing 120 degrees in the afternoon.

“Jackson and I would climb up on the roof of the school with buckets of water and socks filled with bricks to hit with our boxing gloves,” Revers recalled. “There were times you’d look down after doing pushups and see your reflection in a pool of sweat.”

Their young fans, the children of tea farmers, immediately realized their gloves were similar to the ones that hung in their classrooms, put there as a charitable reminder by their priests.

“What these students do for the missions is wonderful,” says Father Brian Daley, a Jesuit priest who teaches theology at Notre Dame when he isn’t teaching and officiating in the ring at boxing practices in the club’s room off “The Pit,” the underground court in the Joyce Center where Notre Dame’s basketball teams used to train.

“When they are in the ring, they compete and work hard,” Father Daley observed. “They also support each other a lot. I think a lot of that has to do with raising funds for the missions. It’s a Notre Dame thing.”

Notre Dame’s original boxing coach was none other than Knute Rockne himself, and there’s a history of Notre Dame football players fighting in the Bengals. In the late 1970s, defensive end Ross Browner and tight end Ken MacAfee beat each other silly for three rounds before falling into each other’s arms at the final bell.

“I love the discipline,” said junior Dan O’Brien, a former high school baseball player from Dallas who won a unanimous decision over Jay Eversole last year in the 173-pound class. “Boxing is the most honest sport that I’ve ever played. When it comes time to step into the ring, it’s just you and one other person and what you’ve brought to the table.”

For 90 years, the Bengal Bouts have provided Michiana a sumptuous feast.

Father Brian Daley works with a student during a recent sparring session in the Boxing Room in the Notre Dame Joyce Center.

The 90th edition of the intramural boxing tournament at the University of Notre Dame involving male students that raise funds for the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh.

Prelims: Thursday, Feb. 13 in Purcell Pavilion (Joyce Center), 7 p.m.

Quarterfinals: Monday, Feb. 17 in Dahnke Family Ballroom (Duncan

Student Center, Notre Dame Stadium), 7 p.m.

Semifinals: Monday, Feb. 24 in Dahnke Family Ballroom, 7 p.m.

Finals: Saturday, Feb. 29 in Purcell Pavilion, 7 p.m.

Tickets: $15 per session or $30 for all sessions.