Fighting for a spot: UMass Boxing Club pushes for club sport status
“that continuous battle is trying to get some practice space”
May 1, 2023
The members of the University of Massachusetts Boxing Club, whose club sports status was taken away over three years prior, were practicing in room 118 in the Recreation Center, with little air circulation, little space and little time, which was slipping through their gloves with each passing minute.
Sean Donnelly, the current co-head UMass Boxing coach, suddenly shouted, “Switch does not mean stop! Keep moving!” The boxers laughed and kept their bodies in motion. There was no waiting around, no time to waste.
Like every other organization on campus, UMass Boxing Club’s 172 active members, 11 advisors and two coaches love what they’re a part of. The atmosphere is lively as members ranging in ages, majors and experiences come together for one thing: boxing.
The club has competitions lined up for the athletes who have a place to work on their skills and abilities, and many members find the boxing practices fun and something positive to be a part of.
Wesley Heard, a freshman kinesiology major, joined the program in Fall 2022 finds the community to be very supportive. “Everybody’s pushing each other to be better, and they’re doing it in the right way,” Heard said.
“Having people that are looking out for you, giving you tips and advice and having a lot of people to spar with and just knowing you have people looking out for your best interests is always huge,” team captain Tyler Beraldi, a seniorjournalism major, said.
The UMass Boxing Club was established in 2007 as a Registered Student Organization; the competition team was established in 2010 by former coach Rocky Snow. According to Campus Pulse, the club and its members help “[instruct] on the fundamentals of boxing, [by] emphasizing proper techniques through drills and instruction from coaches and trainers. The UMass Boxing Club helps individuals build confidence, and discipline, while promoting a healthy lifestyle.”
According to the club sports page, these groups must engage in intercollegiate competition and provide unique opportunities for student development and leadership. According to the Boxing Club advisors, however, the club no longer has a club sports status.
Past the smiles and laughter, advisors work through a growing unease in trying to regain a club status.
Karalynn Aguilar, a junior civil and environmental engineering major and the team’s social media coordinator, said that both practice times and the physical space available were cut in half, limiting the number of members able to join a practice. “We are more rushed with what we can do for an effective workout and technical training and are limited to a room that gets very hot, very fast,” she said.
This change began mainly in the spring semester of 2020. On March 13, 2020, administration announced that all clubs, sports and outside activities were canceled along with classes.
When the University reopened the campus to students in fall 2020, there were still several restrictions regarding in-person clubs and activities. However, many sports clubs still had their club status. UMass Boxing did not. As a recreational sport, UMass Boxing Club could no longer receive its optimal times and spaces to practice.
Amelia Marceau, public policy and administration graduate student and assistant manager of Student Organization Resource Center, noted the main reason for the change: liabilities.
In spring 2020, Campus Recreation underwent a Risk Assessment Review. The Boxing Club and Brazilian jiu jitsu had been identified as high risk organizations.
“There are plenty of sports that can cause some university liability issues,” Marceau said. “But because it’s hand to hand combat type they were identified as risky organizations.”
The Recreation Center’s policies for the spring semester of 2020 states, “The Boxing Club is limited to conditioning and light sparring only. Light sparring is defined in this circumstance as use of handmitts only.”
The club’s networking advisor, Brendan Bernier, a junior philosophy and economics major who joined the club in fall 2020, said that in the first open-gym class there was an unfortunate change to their practice. A recreation center employee notified the team that their practice space would be cut in half due to a spin class running at the same time, according to Bernier. “Up until that point, there had been no communication that our room would be cut in half,” he said.
Incoming club president Vito DiPietro, a freshman accounting major, noted that Bernier is in contact and continuing to work with the Recreational Department.
To compensate for the shortened practice times and limited space, the club has had to migrate over to Central City Gym on Sundays for proper sparring practices for seasoned and competitive athletes. On Wednesdays they use the Gabriel Gladiator Training Center. For both practices, athletes must carpool to and from the outside facilities.
Alec Laurino, a senior marketing major who has been a member of the club since fall 2022, noted the challenges that come with holding practice outside of campus.
“Those spaces are great … but the reason we get those it’s just because [the facilities are] being charitable to us,” Laurino said. “We don’t pay them to go there. So, we just lucked out on those… [But] we have to do a carpool to make sure we get enough drivers … and that can be a hassle.”
Assistant captain Michael Pugliese, a sophomore marketing and psychology major, wants their practice doors to be open for new, prospective athletes. “It does make it a lot harder for us getting new members and kind of …establishing a presence on campus with just the general UMass community,” Pugliese said.
On Saturdays, when the club has their practice at the Recreation Center from 3:30 p.m. to 4:45 p.m., less experienced athletes attend to put in their time and effort.
Some come to these practices for stress relief, others attend for a workout and others want to learn a few self-defense techniques. For others, competing is the main goal. However, due to COVID-19, the club had not been able to compete until Fall 2022.
Former coach Rocky Snow, who had been on the team for about 12 years, was at increased risk from COVID-19. “We were supposed to compete, which would have maintained our club status,” Beraldi said. “But then with Omicron, he was like, ‘Yeah, I’m not comfortable traveling’ and that kind of screwed [the club] over.”
During the gray area periods where the club did not know when they were allowed to practice, other clubs swooped in and took the open slots of time and space. At the beginning of the fall 2022 semester, the club struggled to get those times and spaces back, as they had not competed.
This changed on Feb. 25, 2023 and March 4, 2023. The UMass Boxing Club competed in two competitions, represented by Tyler Beraldi, Paulo Garcia, Guy Michaely and Andrew Prukalski.
As the club continues to pick up speed, its finding new matches to attend and training its fighters to be faster and stronger. The club is also very heavily focused on training its athletes on body mechanics, health, discipline and the overall fundamentals of defense.
However, as the club seeks to gain more enthusiastic members, a larger problem looms overhead: when and where these new members are going to practice. There are struggles behind this as well.
Puglisi said that the Recreation Center had not only taken the speed bags on the third floor, but there are also possible plans of taking away the two heavy bags. This is a large issue as the bags offer a small training space outside of normal practice times. Further, taking the bags away would diminish the boxers’ safety, as they would no longer be able to appropriately prepare for fights.
All these factors playing against the UMass Boxing Club has created tension between the club and the Recreational Center. As these factors begin to grow, the club itself may begin to shrink.
“I’m worried we will have to start limiting our member count and/or practice counts as we are not considered for more time and space that we desperately need to progress,” Aguilar said.
This leaves the Boxing Club wondering if their club sports status will be reinstated. DiPietro’s worry is that the club will have to restart their efforts in the upcoming semesters.
“We’ll have to refigure out a practice time completely,” DiPietro said. “We’re having a bit of a hard time; [to say] that the Recreational Center is a little disorganized or unresponsive is a bit of an understatement.”
Nonetheless, the club is focusing on building a larger student body through social media and merchandise lines. Aguilar and Jamison Lodge, the vice president and merchandise manager, have been working to create eccentric posts, clothing and logos to spread towards interested students.
The club also hosts a variety of fundraisers to support the club and to bring the community around them together. Bernier said, “A lot about what we want to do with these other organizations is not trying to fix this administration problem. It’s more just getting ourselves out there and really becoming a part of the Amherst community.”
Coach Sean Donnelly and coach Meiya Berkey, who have been head coaches since the fall of 2022, also promote the club to all students. They were previous assistants to coach Rocky Snow. Before their roles as coaches, they were also members of the club at UMass in 2013.
In the eyes of the Boxing Club’s coaches, members and walk-ons, nobody just shows up ready to fight. “We run the club in a very safe manner and there are steps you need to take before you even get into the position of possibly getting punched. Then when we deem that you have the fundamentals, you’re enough with that, we require you to sign up with USA boxing,” Berky said.
Aguilar says that the team has hope for a brighter and stronger future, “but we need more people to talk about it and help us advocate for a better status on campus.”
The Recreation Center did not respond to a request for a comment.
This is a developing story. More updates will be provided as new information is received.
Kalina Kornacki can reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @KalinaKornacki.