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Westfield’s Datta Re-Careers

A standout tennis player at WHS, Sam Datta takes his love of boxing to another level.

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Back in March, Westfield graduate Sam Datta won the 152-pound Virginia/North Carolina division at the Golden Gloves boxing tournament in Virginia Beach.

Seated in the front row for a boxing match at ABC Sports Complex in Springfield, Sam Datta’s friends wondered why they were invited. Datta was sparring for the first time and his friends weren’t exactly looking for a souvenir to commemorate the occasion.

That’s not to say they didn’t get one anyway.

Less than two minutes into his career as an amateur boxer, Datta’s opponent landed a solid shot to his nose. The blood started gushing and enough so, apparently, to make its way to the front row of seats. After the fight, Datta approached his friends and realized what had happened.

No wonder that Susan Datta, Sam’s mother, has never seen her son fight.

“I don’t give her a hard time, but I know that everyone’s mom is the exact same way,” Sam Datta said. “I’ve seen very few moms in the stands at fights. And if they are there, their heads are usually turned away. So I can completely understand that.

“Boxing is definitely a safe sport, but there’s a potential for something to go wrong. … And I know that she wouldn’t want to see that.”

Since starting his boxing career at age 15, Datta, a former standout tennis player at Westfield, has tossed aside his racket in favor of boxing. And when he left home to attend James Madison University after graduating from high school in 2008, Datta immediately found a gym there -- the Staunton Boxing Club.

Working with the gym’s owner, Bruce Frank, Datta has started to perfect his craft, winning the 152-pound Virginia/North Carolina championship at the Golden Gloves tournament in Virginia Beach back in March.

<b>BELIEVE IT</b> or not, the sports are actually intertwined more than people think. Although nobody has ever tried to clock Datta while he was lining up a serve, the one-on-one competition is what drives him to succeed in both.

“Both sports are really tough because it’s just you and there’s nobody else that you can put anything on,” Datta said. “If you have a bad day, it’s your fault and no one else’s.”

In fact, boxing was a large part of Andre Agassi’s family. His father, Mike Agassi, was a boxer and represented Iran -- under his original, yet-to-be-Americanized name, Emmanuel Agassi -- in the 1948 and 1952 Summer Olympics.

Matt Datta never boxed. He has, though, always been a fan of the sport. And when his son came to him and said that he’d like to learn how to defend himself, it was dad’s job to make sure he did what was right for his son.

So Matt Datta sought out Han Kim, whom he had read an article about in Centre View. Kim owned House of Champions and had a reputation for developing amateur boxers. About six months into his training there, Sam Datta had another idea; sparring, he thought, looked like fun.

“Of course his mom said, ‘No way,’” Matt Datta joked.

<b>BUT SUSAN DATTA’S</b> son didn’t listen. He kept boxing and stayed with his passion all through high school, which involved quite a bit on-court success for Sam Datta, who played No. 1 singles for the Bulldogs.

Once he started training for boxing, Sam Datta’s physical fitness improved along with his footwork and mobility. It also had a lot to do with overcoming those little annoyances that come with each sport.

Nevermind that one set involved nosebleeds and the other just heat and humidity.

“The toughest part about boxing that people don’t understand is the mental part of the game,” Sam Datta said. “Your first instinct when you get punched is to run away or start fighting back. With boxing, you need to eliminate both of those and focus on what you’re doing. It’s part of the game to get hit.”

Added Matt Datta, “There’s no harder sport, I believe, to train for. The workouts are incredible, and that did translate well into his tennis — the speed, the footwork. There was a big improvement in his game as far as mobility and that kind of stuff.”

Sam Datta, who’ll be a sophomore this fall in Harrisonburg, plans on scheduling another fight toward the end of the summer and wants to continue with this boxing thing as long as possible. Turns out, he’s actually pretty good, too.

“The first time I ever sparred, I got beat up pretty good,” Sam Datta said. “And afterwards I questioned myself like, ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I getting punched in the face?’

“When you first start doing it, it’s definitely an eye-opener because it’s the first time that you’re getting hit and throwing punches. It lets you know how tiring the sport actually is.”