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The North Wind

The North Wind

The North Wind

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Ryley Wilcox
Ryley Wilcox
News Editor

I found my passion for journalism during my sophomore year of college, writing articles here and there for the North Wind. Since joining the staff this past semester as the news writer, I have been able...

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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas Wiertella April 30, 2024

Lights Out?

On the second level of the Superior Dome, there is a boxing ring. It is a ring that has been used to train nine Olympians and three medalists. And it is a ring that may be empty by the end of the semester.

The United States Olympic Education Center (USOEC) announced on Aug. 1, 2007 that its boxing program is scheduled to close in December if alternate funding cannot be found.

“[This cut] is purely a financial issue,” said USOEC Director Jeff Kleinschmidt. “It was a significant drain on our budget and it just wasn’t fair to the other sports.” Kleinschmidt said elimination of the program will help the USOEC balance its budget.

This decision to eliminate boxing was made because the state of Michigan decreased funding significantly in 2003-2004. In response to these state cuts, the university formed a committee to look at all different aspects of the university budget.

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The USOEC was getting a total of $600,000 from Northern’s state appropriation. The university then cut $520,000 of the $600,000 that it was providing to the USOEC.

After the budget cuts in 2003-2004, the USOEC contacted USA Boxing, the governing body for the USOEC boxing, and asked it to pay more of the coaches’ salaries. Kleinschmidt said USA Boxing complied by paying the part-time salary and benefits of assistant coach Larry Nicholson, an amount of $44,000.

Kleinschmidt said the USOEC pays approximately $110,000 per year for the salaries and benefits of head coach Al Mitchell and boxing coordinator Bill Bergin.

Each of the other USOEC programs receive only $20,000 to pay the salaries of their coaches, with each sport’s governing body picking up the balance, Kleinschmidt said.

Attempts to secure more funding from USA Boxing have failed, Kleinschmidt said, and the USOEC has notified the coaches that their jobs and the program are scheduled to be eliminated.

But the program’s demise isn’t yet certain. USA Boxing Chief Executive Jim Millman recently appointed Dave Lubs, the founder of USOEC Boxing at Northern, to lead a committee charged with searching for alternate funding.

Lubs said the committee’s first physical meeting is in November but he hopes they will be in contact by phone before then and that the committee can find the money as soon as possible.

“I got a feeling [the boxing program] won’t close,” Lubs said. “We’ve been in a pinch before and we’ve found a way to make it work.”

The pinch that Lubs referred to occurred in 1991 when the USOEC faced a cut, but was able to survive due to increased support by the state of Michigan and the United States Olympic Committee.

Lubs started the boxing program in 1987 and in August of the same year he hired the program’s current head coach Al Mitchell. If the proposed cut is made in December, Mitchell, who has been the coach for 20 years, will be unemployed.

Coach’s Reaction

“I’m a little sad they even think about closing the program and I’m a little mad about it too,” Mitchell said. “You always like to go out on your terms and this is not how I want it to end.”

Mitchell was the head coach of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics team and the technical adviser to the 2004 Athens Olympics squad. He says that if the program actually does end he will try to continue coaching, but at a professional level.

“I love the program. I love the people. I got spoiled,” he said. “This, to me, was the program. [USOEC Boxing] took kids from inner-cities and literally saved their lives.”

Mitchell said that he feels it is just as important for his athletes to show up in the classroom as it is for them to show up in the ring.

“Most of the kids say, ‘I don’t want to go to school.’ And I tell them if you want to do better in your sport. If you want to go on the trip, you got to go to school.”

Mitchell also believes that having an Olympic Education Center at Northern is an ideal situation for boxers. Northern’s facility is the only USOEC that is located on a college campus and provides athletes with a convenient and important education, he said.

“Most boxers turn pro before they can reach the college system. This program gave boxers the opportunity to get an education,” Mitchell said.

As much as Mitchell likes to see his athletes develop in the ring, he believes it is just as important for them to develop as students and earn their degrees.

“This year I think I saw it all. We had four athletes that got their degrees. These four athletes who got their degrees, to me, it’s just like winning a world championship,” Mitchell said. “With coaching you get one thing-you get memories.”

In his time with Northern’s USOEC, Mitchell has coached current world champion Jermain Taylor, 2000 Olympic bronze medalist Clarence Vinson and 1996 Olympic gold medalist David Reid.

Former and Current Athletes

Reid feels that if it was not for Mitchell and the USOEC boxing program at Northern, he would have never had the success he has had throughout his boxing career.

“The USOEC showed me how to get to that next level, that elite level,” Reid said.

Reid said it would be difficult for him to see the program end.

“I was sad to [find out about the cut] because a lot of young kids like me who didn’t have a way out, end up coming up here and finding a hope and a dream,” Reid said.

If the program is terminated, each of the 15 student athletes on the USOEC boxing team will have to make a decision before the start of the next semester.

They could stay and finish their schooling on their own terms with their own money or continue boxing at a different training location.

Bruno Escalante, a sophomore collision repair major from Waimanalo, Hawaii, is already looking toward an uncertain future.

Escalante said that if the USOEC really does cut the program, he plans to go back to Hawaii and work with his auto body collision repair degree because he plans to graduate in December.

“If I go back to Hawaii, my boxing career would fade because I have no fights there. There’s no sparring partner. Here I get to face some of the best competition in the world,” Escalante said.

Escalante’s teammate Nate James, a sophomore criminal justice major from Boston, Mass., said that many factors, including his family and Mitchell’s push for education, will make him finish his degree before leaving NMU to pursue a boxing career.

“I will stay and finish school but I will also continue with my training,” James said. “Just because [USOEC Boxing] is getting cut doesn’t mean I’m going to stop boxing.”

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