Bengal Bouts: 1940s
Terry Brennan, later to become ND’s head football coach, competed with any number of “Leahy’s Lads” as the football team yearly provided talented contestants that drew great crowds to the finals.
The 1940’s saw the Bengal Bouts first four-time champ in Bill “Zip” Roemer from South Bend. This outstanding feat has only been accomplished nine times in the 70-year storied history of the program, Roemer would go on to attempt an unprecedented fifth title as a law student. The match against outstanding gridder and heavyweight, Gus Cifelli, in 1949 was a match of epic proportions.
Fifty years later at a class reunion in the Boxing Room, Zip Roemer would see for the first time a black and white film of that match. With a twinkle in his eye, Zip said, “For all these years, I never forgave George [referee George Van Der Hayden} for stopping the bout with Gus.” After seeing the flurry of solid punches from the future NFL great Cifelli, Zip chuckled “Now I know why George stopped the bout!”
In 1946, the Knights of Columbus took over sponsorship of the Boxing Program from Scholastic Magazine. The Knights were able to give more time to the promotional effort, and in its first year under the Knight’s leadership the Bouts raised more money than in the fourteen previous years. In 1943, Nappy took his only leave from Notre Dame, and left to serve in the Navy until 1945. There he demonstrated his coaching skill at the Iowa pre-flight school. In three years the Iowa pre-flight school lost only once to the powerful Wisconsin badger team, but they returned the favor by ending Wisconsin’s 51 match winning streak on a subsequent meeting.
The 40’s also saw light heavyweight champ Billy Conn and football coaches Elmer Layden and Frank Leahy star as guest referees for the bouts. In 1949 the program initiated the Bengal Bouts Award, to be presented annually to an individual who has best advanced the ideals of the amateur sport, or the spirit of the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh. The first award was presented to Tony Zale, the “Gary Man of Steel” and world middleweight champion. The next year the Bengal Bout award was presented to Bishop Bernie Shiel of Chicago, one of the founders of the Catholic Youth Organizations (C.Y.O.).