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College boxing welcomes women

Inaugural year of USIBA ushers in a new era for the sport

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June 25th, 2013
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Since the third century B.C., men have been climbing into the boxing ring to engage in a contest of strength, power and dominance over their opponents. While women have participated in the sport, women’s boxing has never been more than a novelty. Sure, there was a demonstration of women’s boxing in the 1904 Olympics, but for most of the 20th century, women’s amateur boxing was banned in a majority of nations.

New horizons

Last year marked a seminal change for the sport when women climbed into the ring for the first time ever to compete in the 2012 Summer Olympic games. And while boxing fans had their focus on the fights taking place in London, a group of dedicated American college coaches and student athletes came together to further amateur boxing, particularly women’s amateur boxing, on this side of the pond when they formed the United States Intercollegiate Boxing Association (USIBA). Thirty schools have joined USIBA in the past year, and, while there is another collegiate boxing league, USIBA is the first and only amateur boxing organization to invite women to compete in championships.

Since the NCAA dropped the sport in 1960, boxing has not been a highly visible activity on college campuses. USIBA wants to change that. Its mission is “to be the preeminent competitive intercollegiate amateur boxing league in the United States. By reintroducing boxing back into the college and university system, USIBA seeks to reestablish boxing as an ethical, important, and relevant collegiate sport while increasing the overall competitiveness of the entire amateur boxing system in the United States.”

Historic event

One of the leading advocates behind the formation of the USIBA was Luke Runion, a former national champion heavyweight boxer, a member of the U.S. National Team in 2006 and 2007, and currently the coach of the University of Maryland’s boxing club. “We had our first event, the championship at the University of San Francisco in January of 2013,” says Runion, who is also president of USIBA. “It was the first time that women’s amateur boxing was ever recognized in a national championship. It was an historic event.”

Runion says that about 35 women and 50 men competed in the San Francisco competition. “I fully expect that number to grow every year,” he says. “I think the ratio will ultimately be 50/50. In the past ten years that I’ve been involved in collegiate boxing, it’s been more and more popular with women. Not just participating in the clubs, but assuming leadership roles, becoming the club presidents, organizing events, and actually competing.”

Accessible to all students

Runion estimates that 90% of participants have no prior boxing experience when they join college boxing clubs. While many are drawn by the chance to compete, others are attracted to the quality of the training. “It’s a better sport than any other in terms of stress relief,” he says. “In terms of challenge, you develop a level of confidence that carries over to other aspects of your life.”

As a club sport, boxing is accessible to any student who wants to participate. “Our clubs are set up for people who want contact and non-contact,” says Runion. “Many times, a club has more non-contact members and they support those who do travel and compete. Everybody gets to be a part of the club. There are things they can learn like event management, marketing, just being a part of a group. It’s all student driven, so there’s a lot of opportunity even if you don’t compete.”

Caitlin DeSantis, a rising sophomore at Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C., was drawn to the social aspects of Georgetown’s boxing club. “The workouts are pretty intense,” says DeSantis. “We start off with 20 minutes of jumping rope, followed by an hour and a half of calisthenics, and sparring twice a week. On the other days, we run sprinting drills for 45 minutes. Working out with a group like this definitely motivates me to stay in shape.”

As much as DeSantis enjoys being a member of Georgetown’s boxing club, she has no plans to compete. “It’s not something I’m willing to try at the moment,” she says. “But I’ve learned a lot about the sport and I’ve really come to respect the people who are brave enough to climb into the ring. I also enjoy being a part of the group and supporting my team.”

Runion hopes that USIBA will boost the sport of boxing overall. “We want young people to walk away saying ‘that’s a real challenge. That’s a worthwhile endeavor.’ So after college, they hold the sport of boxing in high regard,” he says. “I think the perception many people have outside of boxing is that it’s an uneducated group of people, and in some respects, especially historically, that is correct. What our organization hopes to do over time is to change that by growing the sport within the collegiate ranks.”

For information about USIBA, visit collegeboxing.org.

michele.harris@erickson.com

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