Law Students Trade Punches for Good Cause

Author: Lauren Love

Two NDLS students will be in the 86th Annual Bengal Bouts semifinals tonight at 7 p.m. in the Joyce Center Field House. Wesley Chamblee, 1L, and Courtney Laidlaw, 3L, will fight in the historical tournament to benefit charity.

Chamblee, a South Bend native, said he first wanted to attend Notre Dame Law School because he wanted to help others.

“I came to law school to help those in need,” Chamblee said. “I want to be able to defend those who can’t defend themselves, and it’s always been important to me to not only give back to my community but to also give back to other underserved communities.”

Chamblee and more than 250 other Notre Dame undergraduate and graduate students are doing just that – helping others – by participating in the 86th Annual Bengal Bouts.

Bengal Bouts, a charity-boxing tournament hosted by the Men’s Boxing Club at the University of Notre Dame, airs on ESPN. Proceeds benefit the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh. The tradition that began in 1920 with legendary football coach Knute Rockne at the helm started as a way to condition football players in the offseason. According to event organizers the tournament has since opened entry to any member of the student body and now focuses on raising funds for the developing country.

“I went to my first Bengal Bouts in 1998,” Chamblee said. “My uncle’s been involved for 40-something years, ever since he participated as an undergrad. It’s an event I’ve enjoyed watching growing up and I’ve always wanted to participate.”

Chamblee also credits his grandfather as an influence to his sense of purpose and spirit of compassion.

“My grandfather was one of the first black doctors to practice medicine in the [South Bend] area,” he said. “He worked hard to help those in need, whether it was providing treatment to those who otherwise couldn’t afford it or by donating his time to the less fortunate.”

The proceeds from Bengal Bouts are given to the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh, which helps to provide education and life-sustaining services to the country. The funds have been used to build primary and technical schools as well as health care clinics. The students competing in this year’s contest hope to surpass last’s year intake of $138,000.

“This mission aligns with the gospel give a man a fish and you feed him for a day but teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” Chamblee said. “We’re trying to help the people become self-sufficient and be able to provide for themselves.”

Laidlaw, originally from Brooklyn, said he enjoyed the sense of camaraderie he gained participating in Bengal Bouts.

“On a personal level, it’s great to be a part of this long-standing tradition,” he said. “It makes me feel like I’m a part of this brotherhood and it’s something I can look back on and be proud of.”

To prepare for the Bouts, Chamblee and Laidlaw have trained intensely four nights a week since October. Considered to be the underdogs in their matchups, both men face off against former Bengal Bouts champions. Chamblee will face Zachary Flint in the 175-weight class. Laidlaw will face Jason Ellinwood in the 191-weight class.

“I try to come up with a game plan before the fight on how I want to approach my opponent,” Laidlaw said. “But I’ve learned rather quickly that things can change at a moment’s notice. The key for me is being willing and able to adapt to what a particular situation calls for. It’s really similar to what lawyers have to do to prepare to represent a client.”

Laidlaw, who graduates in the spring, plans on heading back to his hometown after graduation to practice public interest law.

“We have our work cut out for us,” Chamblee said. “But it’s an exciting environment and we’re ready to go out there and do our best.”

Three 90-seconds rounds, that will take a mighty dose of speed, strength and endurance, will determine whether they move on to Sunday’s finals at Purcell Pavilion.

“Part of what I’ve loved about this experience is the challenge,” Chamblee said. “Yes we’re doing this for a cause but in reality, I’ve gotten so much out of this experience.

“Every time I step into the ring I have this feeling of inadequacy but when I leave the ring I’ve conquered my fear and I think that’s making me a better person.”

For more information or to purchase tickets for Bengal Bouts visit