It made for a routine trip for people traveling from near and far to see a decidedly un-routine event, one of the most unusual annual high school competitions in the country.
While many sports fans in Section V were getting geared up for the big rivalry hockey game between Aquinas and McQuaid in the Section V quarterfinals that afternoon, two coaches were assembling their teams in the Aquinas fieldhouse for the only U.S. interscholastic boxing competition of the year.
More than two dozen boys and girls from Aquinas and the Cincinnati High School Boxing Program hosted by Moeller High came together for three hours of action. The Little Irish won 17 of 24 bouts against the visitors from Ohio, whose roster was stocked by competitors from nine Cincinnati-area schools.
But the eighth annual competition, which the schools alternate hosting, wasn’t about keeping track of wins and losses. Parents, teammates and other spectators voiced their approval at crisp jabs and well-executed combinations, but the card was as much about challenging one’s self as it was about taking on an opponent.
It’s the difference between fighting and boxing.
"Fighting has a negative connotation," Moeller senior Michael Moriarty said after going three 90-second rounds with Nick Sirianni of Aquinas. "I have no hard feelings against the kid I just fought. He’s a good fighter and it was a good match. This was about getting experience."
Said longtime Aquinas head coach Dom Arioli: "You can take any two people straight off the street, throw them in the ring and let them fight. But what we do is try to teach them a skill. When they get in the ring they’re using their skills to compete.
"They call boxing the sweet science. When you’re moving your feet and getting your hands in position the right way it’s a beautiful sport. It’s a lot more than throwing haymakers at each other."
Saturday’s card was more or less the culmination of the season for the Cincinnati delegation. Training begins at two local gyms in December, and the Aquinas get-together and a relatively low-key intramural competition are the highlights of the season before most of the athletes head off for spring sports ranging from baseball to rugby.
But whereas the Moeller program is in its relative infancy, having been organized in the mid-1990s, the Little Irish intramural boxing program has much deeper traditions. The 78th annual Mission Bouts are scheduled for March 5 at the school, where another sellout crowd is guaranteed. The program sold at the 2009 Mission Bouts was a 60-page, full-color booklet than would put some college football and basketball media guides to shame.
Legend has it that the Mission Bouts, surpassed only by the University of Notre Dame for the longest-running program at an American educational institution, originated as the forum for two rival students to settle their differences long before the days the school went co-ed in the early 1980s. An old-fashion grudge still crops up in the hallways every decade or so, leading the young men to settle their differences in a relatively harmless way in the ring. Cincinnati head coach Ken Christo sees that happen with his own kids once in awhile.
"Their emotions get the best of them," he said. "That’s where good coaches and good corners come into play. It’s up to us to get them settled down and focused.
"But sometimes you go to a boxing match and a fight breaks out," he added, smiling.
Other boxers are decidedly more mild-mannered. Moriarty, the 6-foot, 170-pound Moeller senior who is awaiting news on whether he’ll receive an appointment to the Air Force Academy, admits he didn’t join the program as a freshman because he was intimidated.
"I was nervous I’d get my butt kicked," he said. "But by the next year I had more confidence and was ready to join. It’s been great. I’ve loved it."
A large number of his Aquinas counterparts are second- and third-generation boxers, many with multiple cousins and uncles having also gone through the program.
And then there’s Christian Henderson, a junior at the Rochester school. His oldest sister Erica was the freshman fighter of the night in the 2004 Mission Bouts and the first female recipient of the Muhammad Ali Award as a senior. She’s now a fixture in the starting lineup of the West Virginia University women’s soccer program.
"Watching her fight was incredible," Christian Henderson said. "I knew I had to do it."
Arioli is another reason students are willing – even eager – to go through eight to 12 demanding hours of work per week beginning in early December.
"The way coach Dom works is great," Henderson said. "He’s always helpful and he’s teaching more than boxing. He teaches life skills. You learn a lot of things that you’re going to remember way after you’re done boxing."
What the athletes remember at the start, though, is a steady diet of running the steps, lifting weights and doing pushups.
"We don’t do any boxing for the first three weeks of training," Arioli said. "It’s all conditioning. We find out which kids really want it. If they show that kind of dedication then we know they’re going to be OK in the ring and we can teach them the skills.
"They understand the importance of conditioning and keeping their hands up. You don’t have the discipline to keep the hands up and you’re going to get popped."
The word "discipline" comes up frequently when Arioli and Moeller’s Christo reflect upon what makes successful athletes – and students – at their respective schools.
"Boxing creates the discipline," Christo said. "We have kids with behavioral problems and anger issues that most other sports will not take into their programs. But when they’re done with boxing they can hold their heads high inside the ring and have discipline outside of it."
John Schiano, who has written about high school sports in western and central New York for more than 25 years, covers New York for MaxPreps. He may be reached at