March 18, 2011

‘Will you remember us?’: Bengal Bouts shapes Cathedral graduate’s commitment to the poor in Bangladesh

Bobby Powers, second from left, has made two trips to Bangladesh in recent summers to teach English to high school students and help with alternative energy efforts. He is a graduate of Immaculate Heart of Mary School and Cathedral High School, both in Indianapolis. (Submitted photo)

Bobby Powers, second from left, has made two trips to Bangladesh in recent summers to teach English to high school students and help with alternative energy efforts. He is a graduate of Immaculate Heart of Mary School and Cathedral High School, both in Indianapolis. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

It was one of those times that define a life.

For Bobby Powers, it was a moment when four years of hard work came down to six minutes he will remember forever.

It was also a moment when he was surrounded by so many people who love him—a moment when he also thought of the special people in his life who couldn’t be there.

On the night of March 4, the 22-year-old Powers stepped into the boxing ring inside the Purcell Pavilion at the University of Notre Dame in front of nearly 4,000 fight fans. The crowd included his parents, his brother, aunts and uncles, college friends and even some friends from his days as a student-athlete at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis.

Powers’ fight was part of “championship night” of the Bengal Bouts, the annual tradition of sport and humanitarianism at Notre Dame in which students train and learn to box while also raising money—more than $1 million in the history of the event—to help feed and educate people in Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world.

As Powers loosened up for his match in the 160-pound weight class, two memories stood out to the Notre Dame senior from his four years in the boxing program.

The first moment was from his championship bout in 2010—a slugfest with a skilled boxer that he lost, a fight that Powers still calls “my most proud moment in boxing.”

“I pushed myself harder during that fight than I ever had,” he recalled. “There were moments when I definitely could have gone down, but I kept going. It was a moment that made me feel like I could achieve anything.”

Then there is the other moment—the story that will be Powers’ most lasting memory from his involvement with the Bengal Bouts program.

It happened when Powers traveled to Bangladesh during the summer following his sophomore year. He wanted to visit the people he was trying to help through boxing so he spent six weeks teaching English to local high school students and helping the Holy Cross Missions and the priests there to share the Catholic faith.

“One day after daily Mass, our high school girl students brought us Bangla—the national language—sentences to read out loud,” Powers recalled. “They forced me to read the first sentence not knowing what it meant. Upon finishing, they burst into giggles and cheers. Apparently, it meant, ‘I like you.’ The next sentences were ‘You look beautiful’ and ‘I love you,’ both of which were followed by even more cheers and more giggling.”

The girls asked Powers to read another sentence. When he did, they didn’t cheer this time. Instead, they looked sad. So he asked them what the sentence meant. One of the girls answered, “I will remember you.” Then another girl asked, “Will you remember us?”

“These people had embraced us with open arms, welcomed us into their homes, and given their friendship wholeheartedly,” noted Powers, a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Indianapolis. “Despite their poverty, they showed us they were rich in the significant matters of life. How could I forget them?”

Promising to come back, Powers returned to Bangladesh in the summer before his senior year to help again.

The visits to Bangladesh raised Powers’ commitment to the Bengal Bouts to an even higher level. Seeing firsthand how the annual event made such a financial difference to the people in that country, he focused even more on expanding ways to increase donations.

“In my freshman and sophomore years, it was about boxing and winning the championship,” said Powers, the co-president of the boxing club that has been in existence at Notre Dame since it was started in 1920 by legendary football coach Knute Rockne.

“After going there, it’s about the relationships with the people and how the money is helping them. I consider a lot of the people there as my friends. And it’s made me work harder to do the fundraising. We did a lot more this year in terms of contacting alumni, marketing the tournament and updating the website.”

The official tally won’t be known for a few weeks, but Powers already knows that the money from ticket sales, program advertisements and outright donations has already surpassed last year’s record collection of $100,000.

“We’re well over that already,” he said.

All those thoughts, emotions and experiences were a part of Powers as he faced Notre Dame sophomore Ryan Alberdi in the 160-pound championship match on March 4. So was all the intense training that he has done in four years, including practices that included 500 jumping jacks, 250 push-ups and 500 sit-ups, all within the first 25 minutes of a training session.

Those four years of emotion and effort were capsulized into a bout that was scheduled for three two-minute-long rounds of boxing.

It all paid off when Powers won the championship fight.

“It was cool to go out with the championship,” Powers said. “I felt I had worked even harder in my senior year. It was great to go out that way.”

His thoughts soon returned to the visits he made to Bangladesh—and the people there.

“The trips gave me a better perspective on the world, and how fortunate and lucky we are here,” he said. “We take things for granted, like going to school and where our next meal is coming from. They don’t always know that there.”

It’s part of the way that his life has been changed by a program that has the motto, “Strong bodies fight that weak bodies may be nourished.”

It’s also part of the way he has tried to change the lives of others.

“Bengal Bouts has helped shape who I am,” Powers said. “It’s really defined my experience at Notre Dame. I miss it already.” †

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