My Brother's Keeper

Written + Photographed by Chris Pestel + Caroline Taft

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Early each fall, West Point’s Boxing Team makes the trip from the Hudson Valley in New York to south side Chicago’s Leo Catholic High School to conduct a clinic, share their personal stories and participate in an exhibition. 

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Hand-to-hand combat runs in the blood of the cadets at West Point. Cadets complete a semester of boxing or combatives in their first year at the Academy. Army boxing is a direct beneficiary of this requirement. Army’s boxing team is among the best in the NCBA, winning its 7th national title this past April.

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On the top floor of the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame with a lively crowd of local fans, boxing legends, city figures, and Academy graduates rooting them on, the Army team met pugilists from the city of Chicago.

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As we spoke with the visiting cadets prior to the start of the exhibition matches, one common message resonated in each of their sentiments: boxing fosters an undeniable brotherhood that transcends background, race, religion, and upbringing, and that despite entering the ring alone, boxers are armed with the strength of the brothers they’ve trained so hard with.

Vinnie Ogando — you’re in that ring fighting by yourself, but with the accumulation of what every brother has bestowed upon you, the sparring, the running, the training. 

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This message was echoed in our conversation with Mike Joyce, a stalwart of the Chicago boxing community, manager of the Celtic Boxing Club, coach of his alma mater Leo Catholic High School’s boxing team, and the coordinator and host for the Academy’s visit. 

Joyce added that esteem for fellow boxers does not end at your own teammates, but that “by competing against another individual one on one, you must respect your opponent, and respect yourself.” 

Our dialogue abruptly ended with the announcement of the evening’s first bout, but in the days that followed we reflected on the meaning of the event. Those cadets were there to inspire. Their presence amid the reality of Chicago violence is a testament to their need to be there. They were there to offer an example. To those willing to accept, they offered a challenge: a challenge to lead in their community, a challenge to embrace their own potential.

Brotherhood extends beyond blood — from person to person, neighborhood to neighborhood, state to state, race to race, religion to religion. And for the athletes and cadets that met in Chicago early this fall, that brotherhood extended far beyond the ring, each boxer their brother’s keeper.

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