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Penn State Boxing ‘Fighting’ For More Recognition Outside The Ring

The Penn State boxing team celebrated a century of existence here in Happy Valley on February 11, competing in a 21-fight card bout at the C3 Sports and Event Center.

The current Nittany Lion boxers are proud to belong to such a historically deep team, despite not being an NCAA-sanctioned sport since 1960.

The NCAA pulled competitive boxing out of its list of organized sports after Wisconsin fighter Charlie Mohr allegedly died due to fighting conditions. Since then, many schools have chosen to fight under the National Collegiate Boxing Association (NCBA).

Since 1976, the NCBA organized fights for all schools in the promotion, going as far as hosting regionals and even national tournaments every year. However, the NCBA creates just one major difference from the NCAA — it classifies the Penn State boxing unit as a club sport.

Most fighters on the team feel like the club title doesn’t give the intense athletic endeavor proper justice.

“With all the club teams that Penn State has and with all the D1 teams that Penn State has, you’re not going to get the same atmosphere as you will at a Penn State home show,” sophomore Shane Perry said. “[Boxing] is not just guys slamming their fists into each other’s heads… there actually is some science and strategy behind it… I hope there is more academic approval of the sport.”

Many fighters feel that once Penn State boxing moved off the varsity teams list, the school and its students grew ignorant of the sport that once brought the school major success. The drop-off in facilities and numbers has since lingered, and after the transition to a club team, members are still longing for heightened recognition.

“The state that [Penn State boxing is] in now, we’re training at the IM, we don’t have the ring to practice on like we used to, [and] there used to be a dedicated space for the boxers,” sophomore Sam Zablotny said. “What’s important to me is that we are carrying on the legacy… We are still fighting to carry on what boxing was here and what boxing means to us.”

“I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” he continued. “All the people on this team are constantly fighting for more recognition and more funding… It’s sad to me when I hear people get surprised that we have a boxing team… We have a huge alumni association and are ready to show the university that we are going to continue fighting for years to come.”

However, Zablotny’s favorite feature of the Penn State boxing team is that to him, and to various others, it’s more than just a team.

“I don’t know how else to put it, but it’s like a family,” Zablotny said. “Maybe outside of the ring you guys aren’t best friends, but I see them at practice every day,” said Zablotny. “It’s not always ‘How’s your jab?’, it’s asking about a chemistry test I know you took… We always check in on each other.”

A common misconception addressed by prospective fighters is that inquiries need to have pre-established fighting ties to walk into the practice area’s confines. But, the preconceived notion isn’t even close to reality.

“Boxing isn’t about being the toughest or hardest or being able to take punches, it’s about heart and perseverance,” senior Ryan Starvaggi said. “There’s more to it than just hitting each other.”

Starvaggi has been a part of the boxing community since his freshman year at Penn State. As one of the older members of the team, he’s been able to see several friends grow as fighters and people over time.

“It’s awesome seeing everybody succeed, not just inside the ring but also out of it,” Starvaggi said. “I think everybody on the team can attest to the fact that practicing every day can develop more skills than just your boxing ability… It’s cool to see everyone’s hobbies and interests outside of the ring.”

For those interested in joining the team, the fighters parted with words of careful advice.

“This has been one of the best experiences of my life. I didn’t join a team… I joined a community,” Starvaggi said.

To round out the current campaign, the Penn State boxing team will travel to Bristol, Connecticut, for the East Regional Tournament. The title event will carry on from March 10 to 12.

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About the Author

Brendan Wagner

Brendan is a sophomore majoring in print and media journalism. Born in Pittsburgh, he now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. As a die-hard Pittsburgh sports fan, you can find him on Twitter, @brchwags, often complaining about the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tom Brady.

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