Power behind the punches: Coast Guard Academy cadets bring dedication and focus to National Collegiate Boxing Championships

Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Lara Davis

Cadet 2nd Class Liam Otto from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy exchanges blows with Steven Ware from West Virginia during the National Collegiate Boxing Association National Championships quarterfinals in Seattle, April 7, 2016. Otto, along with four other cadets are competing with other service academies and colleges from around the nation. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Lara Davis.

Cadet 2nd Class Liam Otto from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy exchanges blows with Steven Ware from West Virginia during the National Collegiate Boxing Association National Championships quarterfinals in Seattle, April 7, 2016. Otto, along with four other cadets are competing with other service academies and colleges from around the nation. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Lara Davis.

On the evening of April 7, 2016, as the sun set and the air cooled just north of Seattle, inside University of Washington’s Alaska Airlines Arena things were just beginning to heat up. It was the second night of three for the National Collegiate Boxing Championships and four Coast Guard Academy cadets, along with their two coaches, traveled from New London, Connecticut, to compete. The event brought together boxers from multiple colleges and universities, including the four military academies.

Typically, the Coast Guard Academy Boxing Club doesn’t travel quite as far as Washington. But this night was special, as it offered qualifying boxers a chance to win All-American status. Additionally, this event marked the end of the boxing season, which began in October, and the culmination of many months of commitment.

Inside the locker room, Coach Tom Barile methodically began to wrap gauze around the hands of Marshall Reyburn, while two of his teammates, Liam Otto and Bobby Mey each waited his turn. As a 4th class cadet (freshman), Reyburn was among the newest boxers on the team. Though he had fewer fights under his belt than his senior teammates, Reyburn mirrored their composure and calmness. Still, he admitted to the sort of pre-fight dread that comes with knowing one is about to get voluntarily punched repeatedly.

“I think that’s one thing I like about our program. The program we go through, the practice and stuff we go through, does a really good job of helping us recognize all the hard work we’ve put into it. It helps us be really confident in our fights,” said Reyburn.

Tom Barile, coach for the U.S. Coast Guard Academy's boxing team wraps the hands of Cadet 2nd Class Bobby Mey in preparation for his upcoming bout during the National Collegiate Boxing Association National Championships quarterfinals in Seattle, April 7, 2016. Mey and four other cadets are competing with other service academies and colleges from around the nation. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Lara Davis.

Tom Barile, coach for the U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s boxing team wraps the hands of Cadet 2nd Class Bobby Mey in preparation for his upcoming bout during the National Collegiate Boxing Association National Championships quarterfinals in Seattle, April 7, 2016. Mey and four other cadets are competing with other service academies and colleges from around the nation. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Lara Davis.

When asked what he likes about boxing, Mey, a 1st class cadet (senior), explained that he likes one-on-one sports, “because you are in control of your performance. How well you do is up to you.”

Mey is a winner of the regional championship in the eastern region, as is Otto. In addition to a full load of rigorous college classes at the academy, the boxers adhere to a six-day a week regimen of strength training and cardiovascular activity, on top of boxing-specific training. Also, each of the cadets must maintain their grades in order to compete, acknowledging the necessity of bringing schoolwork on the road to ensure they don’t fall behind in their studies.

Despite what some college students might find to be a heavy load, each boxer expressed enthusiasm and gratitude for having chosen the academy and life as a Coast Guardsman. For example, Mey struggled with which direction to take after high school, until his father encouraged him to look into the Coast Guard Academy.

Otto was also unsure what he wanted to pursue at first, but after looking into various college programs, decided to apply to the Academy.

“The Coast Guard seemed a lot more appealing to eighteen-year-old me.” he said.

“I’m from Midwest and the first time I saw the ocean was after I applied to the Coast Guard,” Reyburn said. “I love everything about it.”

Mey nodded his head in agreement. “Now that I’m here, it’s the perfect branch. I couldn’t ask for a better fit.”

“In the academy, you learn things you’ve never done before,” said Barile, who has been coaching at the Coast Guard Academy for 14 years.

Cadet 4th Class Marshall Reyburn, U.S. Coast Guard Academy, exchanges blows with Matt Reyes from West Point during the National Collegiate Boxing Association National Championships quarterfinals in Seattle, April 7, 2016. Reyburn, along with four other cadets are competing with other service academies and colleges from around the nation. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Zac Crawford.

Cadet 4th Class Marshall Reyburn, U.S. Coast Guard Academy, exchanges blows with Matt Reyes from West Point during the National Collegiate Boxing Association National Championships quarterfinals in Seattle, April 7, 2016. Reyburn, along with four other cadets are competing with other service academies and colleges from around the nation. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Zac Crawford.

Conversely, boxers walk away from the sport having learned lessons directly applicable to challenges they may face later on in the military.

“They are able to apply this skill set to hostile and combative situations,” Barile said, sharing that the mental preparation they learn includes how to focus on accomplishing the task at hand.

Of course, behind every great team are great coaches. In this case, there are two of them. Husband and wife team, Tom and Jessica Barile, volunteer many hours each week, helping the boxers learn and train. In recognition of his outstanding service, Tom Barile recently received the Distinguished Volunteer of the Year Award by the Coast Guard Academy Alumni Association.

In observing the cadets’ interactions with one another and their coaches, it was obvious that, though each must step into the ring alone, they are very much a team. Boxing team alumni also often assist with coaching and friendships forged inside and around the ring are long lasting. At one point, Barile exchanged a warm greeting with a fellow coach, engaging in the kind of rapid-fire banter that comes with decades of shared experiences.

“The first time I met him, he punched me in the face,” Barile said with a chuckle, recalling their initial meeting in the ring years earlier.

Despite its reputation as a bloody and dangerous sport, Barile explained that amateur boxing is actually one of the safer contact sports, even in comparison to basketball and soccer, in terms of serious injury. Barile is also quick to emphasize that, in amateur boxing, the focus is on safety and overall points, as opposed to knockouts. Coaches and referees err on the side making sure no one is in the ring longer than they should be.

At the end of the championship tournament, Mey was awarded the sportmanship award. Both Mey and Kekoa were bronze medal winners, and Otto was a silver medal winner.

“If I can do this, I can do anything,” Mey said.

Cadet 2nd Class Liam Otto, U.S. Coast Guard Academy, beats out Steven Ware from West Virginia during the National Collegiate Boxing Association National Championships quarterfinals in Seattle, April 7, 2016. Otto, along with four other cadets are competing with other service academies and colleges from around the nation. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Zac Crawford.

Cadet 2nd Class Liam Otto, U.S. Coast Guard Academy, beats out Steven Ware from West Virginia during the National Collegiate Boxing Association National Championships quarterfinals in Seattle, April 7, 2016. Otto, along with four other cadets are competing with other service academies and colleges from around the nation. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Zac Crawford.

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