I was 16 years old when I was first introduced to the United States Olympic Education Center (USOEC) at Northern in 2000. That year, NMU hosted the Junior Olympic National Championships. After qualifying for the tournament, I was able to visit Marquette and meet a few of the people associated with the organization, including coach Al Mitchell. From that point on, my goal was to get admitted into the USOEC residential boxing program. My initial interest was entirely focused on the coaching staff and training facilities of the USOEC. However, I soon began to adjust my focus to the educational opportunities that the organization offered to its athletes.
The final decision as to whether or not I was accepted into the program didn’t come until the 2002 Golden Gloves National Championships.
In my semifinal bout I had to compete against one of the USOEC’s own. After a grueling punch-fest, I lost the bout in a close decision, but I had done enough to impress the coaches. Months later I was on my way to NMU’s USOEC boxing program. My goal had been accomplished.
Along with the determination and discipline the program instills in its boxers, it also assists them in acquiring lifelong skills that will help them overcome future obstacles, reach goals and achieve great things. In the end, as they depart from the USOEC, they will leave with a mindset that will never allow failure to become a possibility.
Semesters flew by, training remained consistent, and each boxer’s purpose for being in the program was identical-the Olympic dream. We all set our sights on that one goal. Unfortunately, the USOEC is now in danger of losing its boxing program due to funding cuts. This means that the Olympic “dream” may become nothing more than its literal translation-a dream; an illusion.
As a former member and current spokesman for USOEC boxing, it is heart-wrenching to see the boxing program experience this. Amateur boxing is one of five Olympic sports within the USOEC and its loss will have a significant impact on the organization, the community and the university.
What makes the USOEC exceptional is that it is the only training center out of the four Olympic Training Centers in the United States which incorporates education into the athletes’ curriculum. It permits these student athletes to pursue two very important tangents in life. Another quality which makes the USOEC’s boxing program unique is that it is the only training center that employs a coaching staff with a team and supplies its student-athletes with an Olympic scholarship to attend NMU. Without this support from the boxing program, graduating from NMU, or possibly any other university, would be nearly impossible for some of these athletes.
By providing the boxers with a higher education and training facilities, the local community and surrounding areas also reap the benefits. The team has provided the Upper Peninsula with world-class athletic entertainment and has allowed its residents, along with the NMU student body, to become acquainted with elite student-athletes and to familiarize themselves with this Olympic sport on a personal level.
Moreover, the members of the boxing team are trained to be respectable individuals and are equipped with the tools necessary to be productive in order to give back to the community that helped them throughout.
Since 1987, the coaching staff within the program has also offered their time. Their advice has, ultimately, helped these student-athletes attain their long-anticipated goals of winning gold medals and achieving college degrees. Marquette is a second home to many successfully established professional boxers that were residents of the USOEC boxing program during their amateur careers. Prominent boxers who were coached and trained here in past years include 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist David Reid, 1992 World Champion Vernon Forest, 2000 Olympic Games Bronze Medalist Jermain Taylor, 2004 Olympian Roberto Benitez, several other Olympians and numerous National champions.
The USOEC’s residential boxing program is a true blessing for all of its members, including myself. It leaves lasting impressions in the life of each person as it provides them with a healthy, disciplined lifestyle and brighter future. The knowledge learned, the skills acquired, the qualities gained, the friendships made, the unforgettable memories, and the respectable persona that each member carries once he leaves this program can all be attributed to the exceptional individuals involved in the boxing program.
Boxing coaches Al Mitchell, Larry Nicholson and David Reid, along with Boxing Coordinator Bill Bergin ought to be acknowledged for their contributions and guidance. They have helped to open doors to flourishing opportunities in the lives of many and will continue as long as they are granted the possibility to do so. Their encouragement and advice have contributed to the boxers’ academic and athletic careers and are accountable for accomplishments both in and out of the ring.
The thought of the boxing program’s absence by 2008 fills me with disappointment because I can honestly say that I have never felt more proud to be associated with an organization filled with passionate, honest and diligent people, along with talented, disciplined and dedicated athletes like the ones I’ve come to know. This is why I urge the university, USA Boxing, and anyone who is able to provide funding and assist this program to get back on its feet and to keep it from hanging up the gloves. Help turn this nightmare into the “dream” it once was.