Boxing club helps biochemistry major excel in regional championship

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“The Thrilla in Manila” and "The Rumble in the Jungle” it isn't. Nonetheless, the upcoming Warren Wilson College Exhibition Boxing Match will secure its own place in history.

Melvis Madrigal, a senior biochemistry major, spent the last three years looking for ways to bring boxing to Warren Wilson College. Madrigal picked up the sport as a hobby in high school and soon began taking part in amateur tournaments. The college couldn't provide him with a way to partake in his favorite pastime until he met philosophy professor Jay Miller.

Miller, a trained boxer, and Madrigal will spar during a free boxing event on campus May 5 that will also will feature trained Warren Wilson College and M.A.N.O.S. student boxing club members.

Miller started boxing in graduate school at the University of Notre Dame. While living abroad, he fared well as a competitor, he said, capturing third place in his weight class during the German national collegiate tournament in Freiburg. After becoming a visiting assistant professor at Rice University in Houston, Miller started sharing the sport with children. It was through a historic gym, Progressive Amateur Boxing Association, that he began to see boxing in a different light. The program at the gym has an "educational, juvenile crime-prevention and self-defense focus,” according to The Houston Press.

“It was there that I came to appreciate the social impact that boxing can have through discipline and confidence-building,” Miller said. “This was exactly the idea Melvis and I had in establishing a boxing club at Warren Wilson that could work with partner youth organizations like M.A.N.O.S.”

M.A.N.O.S., which stands for Mentoring and Nurturing Our Students, is a Latino youth mentoring program in Buncombe County. As the leader of the program, Madrigal started bringing some of the students to the newly formed boxing club on campus. Three high schoolers participated throughout the year, getting fitter, learning discipline and improving their grades, according to Miller.

Twenty Warren Wilson College students are also part of the boxing club. Conditioning and technique are the focus of the 90-minute sessions. After one year, the club has become one of the most diverse on campus, and more women participate than any other gender.

Many, like Madrigal, love the sport. "It touches on a number of areas that I think team sports don’t," Madrigal said. "I wanted to share that with other students from Warren Wilson and other youth in the Asheville area.”

As the club developed, Miller became Madrigal’s boxing trainer. The pair spent the year working on technique and sparring. The effort paid off. In March, Madrigal went to the North Carolina Golden Gloves championship in Charlotte and finished second in the 141-pound weight class division.

It was Madrigal’s third appearance in the N.C. Golden Gloves championship. With two second-place finishes, he intends to keep fighting until he captures the top prize. For now, he is putting his quest for gold on hold to create a unique event for Warren Wilson College.

Madrigal believes the event presents an opportunity to showcase the value of a sport he holds dear.

“Boxing is a very disciplined sport." he said. It used to be called the 'sweet science' of boxing, and that’s how I see it. It’s more than trying to harm one another. You are going out with a game plan and need to be able to adjust strategy as you compete, kind of like chess. There is something about competing and the relationship you build with your opponent. It teaches you the importance of boxing and its connection to courage and character.”

While it has been many years since boxing was part of the campus, the school is historically connected to the sport. As early as 1932, Warren Wilson College’s predecessor, the Asheville Farm School, had a boxing team. Known as the Aggies, the team competed against the Asheville “Y” and Weaver College, among others.

"Sweet science' on campus

What: Exhibition boxing match

When: 7 p.m. May 5

Where: Bryson Gym, Warren Wilson College 

Cost: Free

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