A fight quietly raged at the boxing ring on Friday night that few men could see.
Every time the bell rung to break a round between Quebec fighter Alex Beaupre and Nova Scotia’s Cameron Howatt, the young Maritime boxer walked to his corner and received a pep talk from . . . a woman.
“I’m the first female coach to represent boxing at this level,” said team Nova Scotia boxing coach Jennifer Holleman following Howatt’s gold-medal-round loss to Beaupre.
“I guess I feel I’m making a mark for females by being a coach,” she said.
Holleman, 37, is a seven-time provincial boxing champ in the 57-kilogram division in Nova Scotia and a two-time bronze medalist at the Canadian nationals.
She started boxing when she was 29 and fought for six years before being blocked from progressing because of her age.
Holleman decided to become a coach.
But she can’t coach women boxers and expect them to compete at the Canada Winter Games — there’s no such event.
“I’m actually really, really disappointed,” said Holleman of the lack of women’s boxing at the Games.
“They’re saying the reason they’re (female boxers) not here is that they don’t have the numbers.”
But there are enough young female boxers in Canada to have the sport become part of the Canada Games, said Holleman.
And, she noted, women already fight at national and international levels.
“It always seems to be one issue or another,” she said. “There’s still a little bit of that feeling that women don’t belong in this sport.”
The 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri, featured female boxing as a demonstration sport, but the sport has never become made part of the Olympics since.
Boxing between women was banned in many countries for most of the 20th century.
But in the 1990s, the sport started to become popular along with other women’s professional sports leagues, such as basketball.
Female boxing even has superstars: Laila Ali, daughter of world heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali, won the Women’s International Boxing Association’s super middleweight belt in 2002.
What needs to happen for women to box at the Games?
“We have to work harder,” said Holleman.