The University of California is an academic institution unlike any other. Located in Berkeley, it is the birthplace of both the free speech movement and the atomic bomb. No other college in America has produced more PhD students or places more academic departments in the top ten of the rankings today. A couple years ago, I strolled through campus and fortuitously ran into NFL star DeSean Jackson and 2009 Nobel Prize co-winner Oliver Williamson on the same day. This Friday, fans clad in blue and gold will support their Pac-10 champion Golden Bears in the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
So why are a political science/history double major, a graduate student, and a university facilities painter meeting in the dingy dungeon of a basement in the school’s Recreational Sports Facility instead of filling out their brackets? Each of them is an integral member of the Cal Boxing team, which is, incidentally enough, the oldest competitive amateur sport on campus. This weekend, the team will take a 25-minute drive across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco for the Western Regional Finals of the National Collegiate Boxing Association’s version of the “Big Dance.” And scratching beneath the surface, I found that their stories could be just as compelling as the professionals whom they seek to emulate.