Not Just “Boxercise” Anymore

USF Boxing Club Boasts Three National Champions, the No. 3 Ranked Boxer in the U.S., Olympic Level Talent

Boxing is one of the most thriving, well-represented sports at USF. From the school’s boxing club to classes such as Philippine Boxing and Culture and Boxing and Social Justice, a plethora of opportunities are available for students to learn about boxing and also to experience the sport first-hand. While spirits are presently high among members of the boxing program — the club recently hosted the United States Intercollegiate Boxing Association (USIBA) National Championships earlier this year, which recognized female boxing as an equal part of the sport — there was a time when the boxing club was in a far less promising position.

“(The program) was introduced as a “boxercise,” Boxing Club Head Coach Angelo Merino said. “As we moved towards the competition side, we registered ourselves as a guerrilla movement without the University’s blessings. We were practicing at the balcony of Memorial Gym, running on the steps without bags, just using mitts and pads.”

Merino was there when the club was nothing more than an unorganized, unsanctioned “boxercise” in 1995, when he helped convince the University to turn boxing into a formal sport. Since then, the club has made significant strides, culminating in hosting the USIBA Championships, where they boasted national champions in three different weight classes.

While the team has seen much success recently, Merino has even higher expectations for this year.

“This is the best recruiting year we have had,” Merino said. “We have a few who are potential Olympians, and we have one who is a five-time world champion in kickboxing, and is ranked number three in the nation for boxing.”

This five-time kickboxing champion is Katrina Nahe, a 16-year-old prodigy who picked up boxing just six months ago. Nahe attends Deer Valley High School in Antioch, Calif., but still practices and competes with the USF Boxing Club. She will be showcasing her talents at this year’s Hilltop Cup, an on-campus boxing event on Oct. 18 that will feature USF along with up to 19 other schools. Headlining the club’s returning boxers is Nargis Shaghasi, who won a national championship in her weight class last year. Shaghasi recently made a trip to Oxnard, Calif. to compete in a five-week tournament for a spot in the Olympics.

In order to continue producing outstanding, talented individuals such as Nahe and Shaghasi, Merino’s boxing squad practices every day, using the city of San Francisco to its advantage. The club often runs at Ocean Beach and also works out in neighboring gymnasiums. Senior Adriana Bousalian, who won a national championship at the USIBA event last semester, does not sugarcoat the intensity of the boxing club experience.

“It’s a real commitment, it’s not a joke,” Bousalian said. “You’ve got to put your full effort into it; you can’t just put half, because first off you’ll lose, and second you’ll probably get hurt.”

Bousalian, who is “taking it a lot easier” this year but still training with the club, has both cautionary and encouraging words for students who may be interested in taking up boxing: “you sacrifice your social life, and sometimes even your academic work, but (the reward) is worth it.”

Along with the USF Boxing Club, the university also offers two boxing-oriented classes. One of these is Boxing and Social Justice, taught by Merino, along with professor and Boxing Club Assistant Coach Jay Gonzalez. The course not only teaches boxing, but also provides service learning experience through volunteer work to help homeless senior citizens in the Mission District, among other activities.

“Boxing is used just as an icebreaking tool,” Merino said. “It has a cultural diversity aspect to it, and it has a service learning aspect to it…there is a win-win situation between the students and the (volunteering) site.”

Boxing and Social Justice, which is in its fourth year as a class at USF, combines boxing culture with the University’s diversity-focused values. For example, boxing techniques such as jabs and hooks are used as a way of understanding cultural differences that students are exposed to when they travel to certain parts of the city.

“When we’re in the classroom teaching them to be mentors and teachers, we show them how the Europeans would throw a jab, how Cubans would throw a jab,” Merino said. “Those are the things that would break the ice.”

With a club that boasts three reigning national boxing champions, as well as numerous new Olympic-level talents, and two boxing classes that simultaneously involve students in the community, it is evident that boxing is currently prospering at USF. Regardless of what path it takes in the future, boxing has certainly expanded its influence far beyond the balcony of the War Memorial Gym.

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