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The right hook: Boxing club reemerges on campus, promotes self-confidence in members

Ziniu Chen | Staff Photographer

(Left) Joe Stray and Luke Harrigan, boxing coach and sophomore international relations major, respectively, practice in Archibold Gymnasium as part of the reestablished boxing club.

Tucked away in a basement room of Archbold-Flanagan Gymnasium, an eclectic mix of students gathers together to work on their strength, endurance, punching technique and defense tactics.

For the first time since the 1950s, Syracuse University has an active boxing club on campus.

“I came to the discovery that there was no boxing club here at SU,” said Joe Stray, director and head coach of the club. “I spoke with Angie Petrie, the coordinator of club sports, and she mentioned that there were previous inquiries about re-forming a club, but there had been no one with past experience to coach the group.”

Stray saw a potential market for the club, and decided to run with it.

Petrie gave him the green light to start the group under the condition that it was considered a “shadowboxing” club. No contact or physical sparring was to take place on campus.

Stray, a senior sociology major and a certified Level 1 USA boxing coach, now leads a diverse group of students with different skill levels every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday in the lower exercise room of Archbold.

With simple beginnings in a flier advertising the group last spring, the club quickly exploded to include 57 members by the fall of 2012, Stray said. Dues are $150 per semester.

The number of members this semester is down to about 31, but the group will continue to recruit by tabling in the Schine Student Center, he said.

“I’ve been in contact with Eric Buller, a chairperson of the National Collegiate Boxing Association, and we are competing in the Eastern Collegiate Boxing Division with other schools as a crossover team,” Stray said. “The restriction with that label is that we’re not allowed to compete in their championships.”

The club has also been fortunate to use off-campus facilities for some of its workouts.

On Sundays, some members head to Core Fitness Training on Onondaga Boulevard for high-intensity workouts or sparring. The facility is equipped with a USA Boxing-sanctioned ring, Stray said.

“As long as sparring is taking place off campus, Angie Petrie said she’s OK with it,” Stray said. “Part of establishing ourselves is remaining ethical and obeying the university rules.”

Stray said club members are also looking to use the West Area Athletics Education Center in Syracuse, formerly known as Golden Gloves Gym, to do some sparring.

While now an “open class boxer” and New York state champion, Stray began his career at Golden Gloves Gym. As a coach, he hopes to bring his knowledge and experience to students.

“My style of coaching is more democratic and encouraging,” he said. “In the end, my main goal is to teach people how to become the best possible boxer.”

While the club has seen members of varying skill levels, the age range of participants has been even more dramatic.

Bob Colley, former assistant dean of University College, was a member of the club last semester. Stray taught Colley, 73, the basic ins and outs of boxing.

“Colley supports our efforts and he has also opened a lot of doors for me,” Stray said, referring to the credibility and status he brought to the club.

While some students joined the club having never boxed before, Tony Chao, a sophomore illustration major, had more than five years of experience under his belt.

“A lot of kids are novices, but they’re learning pretty fast,” Chao said. “Some of the group is really talented and those are the guys that get to spar soon or are picking up forms for amateur boxing competitions.”

A typical practice involves a round of stretching, six rounds of conditioning and is then a split into three different groups, Chao said. Each round lasts for approximately three minutes, he said.

“It’s broken up into skills, endurance and conditioning,” Chao said. “The rounds are short because in real matches, rounds are only two minutes.”

Ediva Zanker, a sophomore magazine journalism major, is one of several females on the team. Coach Stray was in one of her classes and convinced Zanker to attend one of the practices.

Zanker said she felt intimidated at first, but warmed up to everyone very quickly. She also worried about the potential sexism that is sometimes present in the sport.

“The coaches are wonderful and have never made it seem like girls are any less,” Zanker said. “Of course the guys are going to be stronger, but it’s never stopped me from challenging any of them. I feel like I can do anything the guys can do.”

Because of her experience, Zanker said she feels safer walking around campus, and brings the same tough mentality required in boxing into other aspects of life.

Another female participant, Alexis Oczkowski, a freshman communication design major, turned her interest toward boxing when she didn’t make the cut for the club tennis team.

Oczkowski said she had years of experience in Taekwondo, but had never tried boxing before.

“Joe is a great coach who doesn’t leave you out to dry,” she said. “He teaches you proper technique and also works to refine your skills.”

Oczkowski said it feels great to see some of the guys not being able to keep up with her.

“In the end, it’s all about coming in, having fun and getting in shape,” she said. “I’ve been able to accomplish that with this group of people.”

TJ Tree, a sophomore international relations major and contributing writer for The Daily Orange, joined the club because his roommate was a member. Like Oczkowski, he had years of Taekwondo experience, but had never boxed before.

“Taekwondo is more about the art of the kick, while boxing is about the art of the punch,” Tree said. “There are a lot of extra things you learn in boxing, like how to block punches and how to defend yourself.”

Though there are other obvious differences between the two styles of fighting, Tree said drawing power from the core is an important similarity.

Tree has not engaged in any sparring yet, but has instead chosen to work on his defensive techniques.

“I’m hoping to start sparring this semester, though,” Tree said. “I’ve been doing a lot of the two-punch and one-punch practice, the step right below sparring.”

Stray, the head coach of the club, said he is excited to see so much enthusiasm for the boxing club.

Said Stray: “My goal is bring boxing to people as a way to improve self-confidence, boost self-esteem and promote stress relief.”

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