Some people jog for charity. Others walk. Not long ago an American breast-cancer foundation staged a stroll-a-thon whose participants didn’t even have to get off the couch, deputizing online avatars to walk for a cure in cyberspace instead. Yet in the last five years, dozens of Penn graduate students have elected to take an actual physical beating to raise money for a cause. Why?

“It’s kind of ancient, in a way,” muses Lou Marchetti, an MBA student and one of this year’s organizers. “It’s a little barbaric, but not totally—there are rules. But it’s really just man-on-man, or woman-on-woman, with no one else to help them out in the middle of the ring. So your heart is racing for that person. Because whomever you’re rooting for, it’s them against their opponent, and if they lose, there’s some consequences of getting knocked out.”

For Wharton students, whose educational experience is often channeled through group cohorts and teamwork, there may be something uniquely appealing about the competitive purity of boxing’s every-man-for-himself dynamic. After all, boardroom victories can come in all flavors, including poisons that have none. The ring is a simpler affair. The field of combat is well lit. Your opponent can’t sneak up behind you. You can’t win by subterfuge.

Or maybe it’s just irresistible to do something that would all but spell doom in the post-graduation quest to impress some firm’s senior partners.

“For a lot of business-school students,” says R.T. Arnold, “they say, ‘This is a chance to do things I may never do again.’ There’s definitely a risk, but everyone I’ve spoken to who’s done it, whether they’ve won or they’ve lost, said it’s just a once-in-a-lifetime experience that they’re never going to forget.”

For others, it’s a chance to revisit a feeling that age will soon put beyond reach. “Look,” Tommy Forr said with disarming cheer after his loss, “I’d much rather do this than stand before the Supreme Court and make an argument. Any day. But God didn’t give me those gifts.”

The intensely local nature of Fight Night also scratches an itch that sometimes nags grad students who pass through town without really making a connection. “We want to show that Wharton is about more than just having kids run around Philly for two years,” Marchetti says. “You want to make sure you’re out there in the community, and not just doing your own thing.”

For the Boys & Girls Clubs, “$55,000 is a huge number,” says Al Molica, the organization’s chief development officer. “It’s the second-largest fundraising event that we’ll have over the course of the year.” And this year there was more to it than the money, he adds. “This year we had Lou, [fellow organizer] John [Buchanan], and some of the fighters come out to our Bridesburg club and work with our kids—sort of teach them a little bit about boxing, and present solid role models.”

“That was a lot of fun,” says Rick Springman EAS’02, a doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering. “We talked to a group of about 30 to 50 kids, aged maybe 7 to 11, about the importance of education and exercise. We kind of used boxing as a tool to emphasize the role of discipline.

“Then we got to work with them and show them some stuff, which I thought was funny,” he adds. “I was thinking about their parents, and how they were probably going to hate us for teaching their kids to box—because the first thing I would have done if I learned to box as a kid would probably be to box my brother when I got home. But the kids really enjoyed it, and I think we probably enjoyed it just as much.”

“That’s one of the most important things for us, that connection,” Molica says. “University of Pennsylvania kids are high-level folks. We want to give our kids an understanding of what they can aspire to be.”


May|June 09 contents
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Ultimate Fundraising Championship By Trey Popp
Photography by Candace diCarlo

Ryan Berger comes from behind to vanquish Bill Stone.

James Williams sends Tommy Forr to the canvas.

Williams with his entourage.


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Last modified 4/30/09