“Some people are like a duck to water, and other people it takes longer,” Sokal said. “There was one guy who started as a freshman, and it wasn’t until his senior year when we finally had him ready to compete and got him a couple matches.”
Sokal stressed the importance of making sure people are ready before their first fight and said that safety is always a top priority.
“In basketball, when Carolina plays someone who’s not very good, they put the ball in the basket 50 more times than the other team,” Sokal said. “In boxing, when the teams with elite boxers face teams that aren’t very good, we’re breaking faces.”
Boxing was an NCAA sport until 1960. It was dropped because of the disparity between the best and worst teams. Now it’s governed by the National Collegiate Boxing Association, and Sokal said that change has been crucial.
Because Sokal is a volunteer coach, he has no pressure to force injured players to compete — and the NCBA has taken measures to make sure that elite boxers are not competing against lower level boxers.
“If it’s done correctly, if you’ve got good coaches and good officials, it’s a safe sport,” Sokal said.
The boxing club is co-ed, and while there are currently no women on the competitive roster, junior Aitch Hunt is part of the sparring group. She hasn’t had her first fight yet, but she said she hopes to have her chance in the spring.
“I’ve been getting beat up a lot so I feel like that’s pretty good preparation,” Hunt said.
Hunt said she likes the individual nature of the sport, and she feels like boxing has pushed her limits.
“I can’t depend on other people,” Hunt said. “I like being independent. I like being responsible for both all the mistakes and all the accomplishments. For anyone who’s looking for a release, a way to work in high-intensity situations, to feel more confident, it’s a great outlet and incredibly empowering.”
Tim Sloan, a sophomore transfer student and former Marine, trained for a year before he was deployed in Afghanistan, then served overseas three years in United States embassies in Central Asia, Southern Africa and Southeastern Europe before returning this past February. He joined the boxing team as a way to stay fit, and he’s getting his passbook so he can start sparring in the spring.
“I like seeing how much potential I have and how far I can go,” Sloan said. “I really just want to continue to improve and see what happens.”
Club President Le Ho is part of the competitive roster and has big hopes for this season.
“This past year I grew a lot as a fighter,” Ho said. “Personally, I don’t think anybody in my weight class can beat me.”
Ho lost his first two fights of his career. He said he thinks he might have rushed into them, but this season he’s 2-0 and picked up a win against a boxer from The United States Naval Academy, which is often considered to have the best boxers in the NCBA.
“I think I always have a really good chance to win, and as a fighter you have to have that mentality,” Ho said. “If you doubt yourself, you’re certain to lose.”
There are roughly 170 current members of the boxing club, and workouts typically draw crowds of 50-100 members. Sparring practices consist of about 20 members and, as of now, there are only five members who compete. Ho said he wants to continue to sustain the boxing presence on campus and to encourage more members to spar and compete.
“Boxing might seem scary – people are intimidated because of the concussions and the individual aspect,” Ho said. “But there’s something satisfying about getting into the ring with someone else one-on-one. You’re in control, and if you lose you know it’s your fault, and I feel OK with that. I feel calm in the ring. That might be one of the most calming places I can be.”