One-two punch

July 31, 2014

By Christina Corrales-Toy

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By Christina Corrales-Toy Chris Mendez, head coach of the University of Washington boxing team, shows off the team's national championship trophy in his Newcastle home.

By Christina Corrales-Toy
Chris Mendez, head coach of the University of Washington boxing team, shows off the team’s national championship trophy in his Newcastle home.

Newcastle man leads UW boxing team to national championship

On the basement floor of Chris Mendez’s Newcastle home sits a dedicated nook filled to the brim with trophies, medals and plaques.

They represent physical reminders of Mendez’s storied boxing career as a U.S. Military Academy cadet and his accomplishments in the corporate world.

The collection’s newest addition is hard to miss, standing tall among the others, embellished with a bright red boxing glove on top.

It’s one of the more meaningful ones, too, Mendez said, as he handled the 2014 National Collegiate Boxing Association championship trophy he collected in April, after his University of Washington women’s team earned first place at nationals.

“My feet haven’t even touched the ground yet,” Mendez said with a proud grin.

It was an improbable win for a university boxing team that started just four years ago, has limited resources and a volunteer head coach.

But the 40 or so athletes on the club team have completely bought in to their coach’s philosophy of “pride, poise, team,” and the trophy is just validation of that, an emotional Mendez said.

“They trust me,” he said. “They believe me when I tell them they can win.”

Mendez didn’t step foot in the ring until he was a West Point freshman. Boxing is a requirement for all first-year students, because it instills discipline, he said.

He was a fast learner, winning the Brigade Boxing Championship, a competition that pits West Point students of all ages against each other, in his first year.

“As a cadet, you’re a lowlife plebe, and you get yelled at and screamed at,” he said. “Well, no one touched me after winning that. They left me alone.”

Mendez went on to win the Brigade Boxing Championship all four years, became a two-time All-American and was a two-time national runner-up.

Upon graduation, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army’s Military Intelligence branch. He also earned an Air Assault badge and was an Airborne Ranger.

Originally from California, it was the service that brought him to Washington, where he was stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. After his time in the military, Mendez elected to stay in the state, get a corporate job and earn his MBA from the University of Washington.

His military background is evident in the way he runs the UW boxing team. It’s structured like a platoon, with pseudo sergeants, captains and squad leaders. Tryouts also consist of rigorous boot camp-style exercises.

Mendez emphasizes that his young boxing program is much more than right jabs and left hooks. It’s about finding young men and women and developing them into leaders that will go out into the world and represent the University of Washington well, he said.

“It’s not who’s the best athlete. I’ll teach them how to box,” he said. “It’s who has the most heart? Who has the best character to be a part of this team?”

One of the team’s goals is to achieve an average grade point average of 3.4. With graduates that have gone on to medical school, and current students with aspirations in medicine, law and business, Mendez said he thinks the group can top that.

Mendez works hard to find mentorship opportunities for his athletes. He has used his connections to pair boxers with physicians, business professionals and lawyers. He also brings in guest speakers to talk to his team about leadership.

On the web

Learn more about University of Washington boxing, and contribute to the team, at www.uwboxing.org.

The team is always looking for volunteer coaches, athlete mentors and financial donors. Email Chris Mendez at christopher.mendez@hotmail.com to learn more.

“It’s not just about athletics. It’s not just about winning,” he said. “It’s about who they become during and after the process.”

The UW boxing team meets three nights a week during the school year. They train in a mat room at the school’s IMA athletic center. But they don’t have basic training tools, such as a ring or punching bags.

In order to compete, they often have to go out of state to find opponents, which requires a travel budget.

“Our lack of resources is a huge disadvantage, but yet we’re out there, we’re competing and we’re winning,” he said. “I keep telling people, alumni and supporters, imagine what we can do if we had the facilities, space and equipment.”

Mendez estimates it takes a $25,000 budget to accommodate the travel and competitions. For now, Mendez relies on a small alumni base for support, and the team sells UW boxing T-shirts as its main fundraiser.

He hopes the team’s national championship raises awareness about the group and its work, so that someday, it has the essential training resources to annually compete for titles. UW President Michael K. Young has acknowledged the success, mentioning the team at a Regents meeting and sending them a letter.

“That alone meant a lot,” Mendez said of the letter. “These boxers represent the University of Washington. They go in that ring and they wear the purple-and-gold, and they wear it proudly.”

Mendez doesn’t get paid for his work, at least not materially, and the time commitment during the season is substantial, with wife Alyson becoming a “boxing widow” at times.

“We’re truly a little family,” he said of his team. “My benefit is being able to help and coach them into the best people they could be. That’s my benefit. That’s my pay.”

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