MADISON, Wis. -- Nearly 54 years after boxing was banned at the University of Wisconsin, students once again are getting ready to start sparring and hitting the heavy bag on campus.
Thanks to the determination of sophomore Chandler Davis and a handful of like-minded enthusiasts, boxing has been approved as a sport club at the UW and a multi-purpose space in the Natatorium has been outfitted with equipment.
The first practice is scheduled for Wednesday.
Boxing was banned at Wisconsin and by the NCAA as an intercollegiate sport after UW boxing team member Charlie Mohr died on April 17, 1960, eight days after taking a punch that detached a blood vessel in his brain during the NCAA championships.
At the time, the Badgers were a national powerhouse and had won eight NCAA team titles in the previous 21 years.
Davis, of Los Angeles, has a background in amateur boxing and his father is a UW graduate who also boxed. When Davis arrived on campus in the fall of 2012, he found that boxing was not among the university's 41 sports clubs and wondered why.
It was then that he learned about the ban. He dug deeper and found that it expressly outlawed boxing as a varsity sport on campus but didn't seem to apply to the sport club level.
Initially, Davis started a club for UW students at Ford's Gym in Madison but had trouble retaining members because of the several-mile commute from campus. He knew the key to the club's success would be getting it established on campus.
But he seemingly faced an uphill battle. In the 1980s, longtime Madison trainer Bob Lynch tried to revive boxing as a club sport, but the UW Office of Risk Management, still mindful of Mohr's death more than two decades earlier, nixed live punching on campus.
"I welcomed Chandler to give it a try, but I told him the horror stories of Charlie Mohr dying Easter Sunday of 1960 and let him know that I had gotten it going once but they then said no live punching on campus," Lynch said. "Several other people tried and always failed."
Davis tackled the tedious application process, which included presentations to the recreational sports advisory board and the club sports executive board.
"The rules stated specifically that the ban applied to intercollegiate boxing," said Aaron Hobson, UW's assistant director of competitive sports. "Does the verbiage still stand for clubs? We had to make sure we had the proper answers."
Davis made slide presentations, answered questions about equipment and safety, demonstrated student interest, got 200 signatures on a petition and stressed that live sparring would always be supervised by qualified coaches.
"Part of my presentation was a list of schools that have boxing," Davis said. "Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn State, Southern Cal, UCLA ... it's a big club sport at a lot of schools. Some of the clubs even have their own gyms."
To his surprise, Davis met little resistance. Sport club leaders even asked him how long it would take for Wisconsin to field a competitive team. Though the NCAA still does not sanction boxing, the National Collegiate Boxing Association, founded in 1976, and the United States Intercollegiate Boxing Association, founded in 2012, hold national tournaments.
"We're not proposing this at a high level right now," Davis said. "But sport clubs have to be of a competitive nature, so they have to allow sparring on campus."
On Dec. 4, boxing was approved as a sport club.
"We're excited," Hobson said. "We're here for the students, and if there's a need, we want to support those students."
Lynch, who trained 1996 Olympian and former WBA champion Eric Morel and once sparred with Mohr, didn't think Davis would be successful in getting boxing approved on campus.
"I expected him to get a heck of a lot more resistance," Lynch said. "But the people who were so outspoken about not having any live punching on campus years ago are all retired or dead.
"Secondly, so many of the martial arts are on campus now. They are punching and kicking and throwing elbows, so it would be pretty hard to keep turning down boxing."
Lynch and former professional boxer Andrea Nelson will coach the boxing club, which will meet twice weekly at the Natatorium.
"Chandler deserves an awful lot of credit," Lynch said. "The kid is really a well-organized, excellent student and has taken all the correct steps."
Davis said he has spent "hours and hours" getting the club approved and established.
Now, he'll finally have time to get in the ring and throw some punches, too.
(c)2014 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Visit the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at www.jsonline.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services