St. John's brings back student boxing club, dormant for decades

St. John's College senior Lydia Marie Hovey has a busy class schedule and participates in lots of school activities, but she still finds time to work on her hooks and power punches.

Hovey, a


, Ill., resident, is a member of the St. John's boxing club, which has recently revived a sport that was popular on the


campus in the 1940s and 1950s. The current coed club includes many who before joining knew little about the sport often referred to as "the sweet science."

They have not only learned boxing's tactical aspects and cardio benefits but have come to appreciate what it means to stand toe-to-toe with an opponent looking to knock his (or her) block off.

"I eat punches, a lot of punches," Hovey said. "I keep coming forward; I am not going to back down, which is a good thing and a bad thing."


The group holds a boxing class run by a few of its members. Among them is Manaan Alexander, a senior from Camden, Maine, who took up the sport while attending the school's Santa Fe, N.M., campus, where boxing remains popular. Since she transferred to Annapolis the same time as another collegiate boxer, Alexander has helped revive the sport.

She teaches techniques including how to throw a punch and footwork, but says she isn't preparing fellow members for ring action, in part because she's not a fan of the ring herself.

"I fought my one exhibition fight and I won, and now I don't do that anymore because getting hit in the face is really awful," said Alexander. "It's an artful sport, and there's so much more that goes into boxing than just the actual fighting.

"The amount of work that goes into the muscle memory, the repetition and just the perfect form of boxing takes way more work than actually getting in the ring and fighting," Alexander added.

Fellow student instructor Thomas Mills, a senior from


, Alaska, said he can see the improvement club members have made after a few months of instruction. Some who were once reticent to spar now try to compete with him.

St. John's athletic director Leo Pickens said that the fight club is a throwback to the sport's popularity on campus decades ago, when bouts were staged in the school's gym. He said that when he heard the sport was making a comeback, his initial concern was safety. The school has no boxing ring, and club members primarily perform training exercises on the gym court.


Earlier this year, they staged an elaborate exhibition, featuring three 3-round bouts. They had an emergency medical technician at ringside and had the bouts officiated by a local boxing judge.

They even had round-card girls.

"I've met with them, and we've been going over safety concerns and how to ensure that boxing can be done in a safe fashion," said Pickens. "What mostly impressed me about the boxing group is its emphasis on training, fitness and technical aspects of the sport and the de-emphasis, at least initially, on the sparring.

"When I see how hard they work out, which has nothing to do with striking the other person, that seems to be 90 percent of what they're doing, and that I'm wholeheartedly behind," Pickens said.

Hovey, who often boxes with pink gloves, said she joined the club at the request of a friend who didn't want to be the only female student to sign up. She said she's never knocked anyone down but added that while sparring, she did give a male boxer a bloody nose. "But I also got a bloody nose from a guy, too," she said.

Mills said he hopes the sport continues to thrive on campus as it did decades ago.

"Maybe it might be a goal for Pickens to get more organized and actually have a boxing team that can compete across the nation," Mills said. "Right now, this builds a good sense of community. We all know what it's like to stand in the ring and trade punches with someone and really put yourself out there, physically and emotionally, in front of everybody."