Showing stripes in shades of red Fighting spirit is winner at Navy championships

February 21, 1993|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

The blood gushes from John Ohman's nostrils, pouring a red river across his upper lip, dribbling down into his mouth, bubbling back onto his chin and finally collecting in pink puddles on the front of his gold T-shirt.

Twenty seconds to go, behind on points, and Ohman, the plebe, is in trouble.

He is flailing, now, punching the air, searching for Troy Turner, a senior, a leader of leaders at the Naval Academy.

Ohman misses with a right. And then a left.

The clock keeps ticking.

All Turner must do to win is retreat, to stand as the final bell sounds. He is the model student with the perfect resume on his way to a career in the Marine Corps, and yet his academic mission is incomplete. Twice before he has fought for titles, emerging from the ring with a broken nose, a broken heart and two defeats.

But Turner can't lose on this night, to this plebe, in a 180-pound bout inside Halsey Field House.

So Turner steps forward.

Ohman winds up again, a scared and desperate 20-year-old coming overhand with this right, throwing a high, hard one, searching for a miracle, finding not air, but the left side of Turner's nose and upper lip.

The senior's left leg buckles. Blood trickles from his mouth.

There is a shriek from the bleachers.

Ohman throws another overhand right.

And another. And another.

Four punches. Four strikes.

Turner begins to topple backward, his arms waving wildly, his legs turning to anchors, until he sinks softly to the mat.

The crowd stands and screams, drowning out the referee's count. Even the officers in their dress blues are on their feet.

Ohman sags against the ropes, leans his head back, the blood still oozing from his nose.

A second remains on the clock.

The plebe prays. The senior weeps.

Welcome to the Friday Night Fights at the Naval Academy. Part rite of passage, part bloody entertainment, the Brigade Boxing Championships, which were held for the 52nd time Friday, are all Academy, bringing together the toughest, roughest Midshipmen in Annapolis.

They may wear protective headgear and thumbless 12-ounce gloves, they may only box three, two-minute rounds, they may often lunge awkwardly and slap punches blindly, they may even bleed on contact and transform a ring mat into a slaughterhouse floor.

Yet boxing at the Academy is not about a relentless pursuit of skill and style. Victory here is measured in courage and heart.

"There is so much emotion," said Jim McNally, Navy's head boxing coach. "People don't think any less of you if you lose. Men can cry here."

And they do.

Mandatory games

There is nothing elective about athletics at the Naval Academy. You master engineering and mathematics and history. You drill. And finally, you play, three times a week minimum.

By 3:30 each weekday afternoon, the campus looks like Planet Reebok. Out of their uniforms and into their sweats, the 4,200 Mids work hard at playing in 33 intercollegiate varsity sports, 12 intramural programs and 10 club events.

The boxers stake out a corner in McDonough Hall, by a half-moon shaped window overlooking a track, and, beyond that, the Severn River. It is here, for six months, where they will train, preparing for a tournament among themselves, measuring one another for one cold winter's night in February.

"We're a team," said Shane Voudren, a junior from Turner's Falls, Mass. "But in the ring, it's just you and the other guy."

Instead of fight posters littering the brick walls, like you would find in the old-time gyms, there is an orderly assortment of black and white pictures of past teams, plaques bearing the gold-lettered names of the Brigade champions, and lockers filled with gear.

But the practice is just like something out of Gleason's. Speed bags are whipped, heavy bags thumped and lone fighters sweat through the ritual of shadowboxing against unseen foes.

"In boxing, it's just you, and you learn mind over matter and you learn to keep pushing yourself," said Rear Adm. Thomas C. Lynch, Naval Academy superintendent, two-time heavyweight champion, the baddest man in the Brigade.

The sport survives here as a club event because male plebes and sophomores are required to take boxing classes. Women Mids also take required courses in self-defense.

Some 40 other colleges have club boxing programs, and the best fighters annually compete in the National Collegiate Boxing Association championships. But since a University of Iowa boxer died in 1960, the sport has gone unrecognized by the NCAA.

At Navy, though, boxing is celebrated.

"You deal with a little fear and a little uncertainty, and what better place to find that, but in a boxing ring," said Col. Terry Murray, the Academy's deputy commandant and a former Brigade champion.

The night Murray won his title, he got a little help in his corner

from a friend, a gung-ho Marine, a future National Security Council aide, Oliver North.

North is one of four men who have dominated the history of boxing at Navy.

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