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Friends of David Forney fight in his memory at Brigade Boxing Championships

Jake Clary, right, fights Anthony Chase-Hill in the 125 pound bout. Clary wins by decision. The Naval Academy held their 78th annual Brigade Boxing Championships were held Friday evening at Alumni Hall in Annapolis.
Jake Clary, right, fights Anthony Chase-Hill in the 125 pound bout. Clary wins by decision. The Naval Academy held their 78th annual Brigade Boxing Championships were held Friday evening at Alumni Hall in Annapolis.(Paul W. Gillespie / Capital Gazette)

David Forney loved the Brigade Boxing Championships.

Forney, who was a heavyweight wrestler for two seasons at Georgetown Prep, loved the mano a mano nature of the sport and felt a responsibility to root for the boxers in his company.

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After 9th Company mate Jake Clary came away victorious in the first boxing match of his career during the event known as the “Plebe Smoker,” the 6-foot-3, 300-pound football player may have been more excited than his 119-pound classmate.

“When I won my first boxing match ever, Dave put me on top of his shoulders and paraded me around,” Clary recalled this week. “That’s a great memory I’ll always have and cherish very dearly.”

Clary and several other finalists in the 79th annual Brigade Boxing Championships will compete with heavy hearts this Friday night at Alumni Hall. Life goes on and so must the show, but Forney will be on the minds of many.

Forney, a senior from Walkersville, died last Thursday night in his dormitory room at Bancroft Hall. The 22-year-old standout offensive lineman on the Navy football team will be buried at the Naval Academy next Tuesday following a private funeral service.

Sophomore guard Greg Summers notched his third double-double of the season with 15 points and 13 rebounds as Navy picked up a much-needed win, 62-57 over Loyola before an announced crowd of 1,446 at Alumni Hall.

Forney was particularly looking forward to this year’s Brigade Boxing Championships because Clary, his good friend since plebe summer, was seeking to join the elite list of four-time champions.

“Dave’s room was right across the hall from mine and we were really close,” Clary said. “I’ll definitely be thinking about Dave when I step into that ring on Friday night.”

Truth be told, Clary has been thinking about Forney constantly since that fateful night when the entire Brigade of Midshipmen was stunned to learn of his sudden passing. Forney was known to regularly listen to Mac Miller, the late rapper who died tragically in September 2018.

“I’ve been listening to Mac Miller while I work out in the gym even though I’m not a big Mac Miller fan. I’m doing it because that was Dave’s favorite artist,” Clary said prior to boxing practice on Tuesday. “It gets me pumped up and reminds me of Dave and how happy he always was. I’m trying to think about the good times instead of dwelling how much I miss him.”

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Classmate and company mate Tanner Strawbridge is suffering the same turmoil this week as he attempts to capture a second Brigade championship. Strawbridge was Forney’s longtime roommate and was the one who found the massive football player unresponsive.

Strawbridge is CPR-certified and administered resuscitation efforts at the recommendation of first responders en route to Bancroft Hall. Emergency services transported Forney to Anne Arundel Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 11:28 p.m.

“My biggest goal after what happened was to be there for Tanner, who was so distraught,” Clary said. “Tanner is someone I love and one of my best friends and it was tough seeing how much he was struggling.”

Strawbridge and Clary are glad they both had byes into the championship bout because they would not have been able to box in the semifinals that were held last Friday night at MacDonough Hall.

“I’m lucky, I didn’t have to fight on Friday night. It would have been very difficult,” Strawbridge admitted. “Jake and I actually talked about it after Dave’s passing, about whether we should even fight in the finals. I know Dave would have wanted me to carry on and go win another championship.”

David Forney had planned to bring his longtime girlfriend Carlie Petrosky to the Brigade Boxing Championships. Instead, Rick Forney will be in attendance at Alumni Hall on Friday night to support Clary and Strawbridge instead of his son. Rick Forney will be joined by sons Chris and Carlie.

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Navy-Maryland men's lacrosse, postponed this past Saturday, may not be made up. The Midshipmen and Terrapins are having difficulty agreeing on a mid-week date to play the historic contest.

“I’m really happy Dave’s family is coming. If I can provide a brief distraction from what they’re going through it would give me a big lift,” Strawbridge said. “I’m just trying to go out there and honor Dave’s memory and maybe help his family heal a little bit.”

Clary will be meeting Amir Chase-Hill in the 119-pound final for the third straight year. Experience and ring savvy have been the difference in the previous two meetings as Clary came away with unanimous decisions.

“I’m going into this like it’s my first time in the finals, just treating it like a blank slate,” said Clary, who was a solid high school wrestler back in Lincolnton, North Carolina. “I’m preparing how I would for any other match, just trying to focus on being comfortable in the ring.”

Chase-Hill, who is the nephew of a former All-Navy champion and Olympic boxing coach, is determined to prevent Clary from becoming the 21st four-time champ in Brigade Boxing history. The Albany, Georgia native focused on academics during the first semester after switching majors from political science to systems and robotics, falling a bit behind Clary in terms of training.

“I see how hard (Chase-Hill) is working in the gym and that motivates me. We’re both putting all our chips in for this fight,” Clary said. “It’s all about going in with a plan and executing that plan regardless of what happens. I’m pretty calm and level-headed in the ring regardless of how things go.”

Strawbridge sat out the Brigade Boxing Championships last year because there was no competition at his preferred weight class of 132 pounds. Longtime Navy boxing coach Jim McNally tried to get the Corpus Christi, Texas native to enter at 125 pounds but Strawbridge could not cut enough weight.

“I was in kind of a pickle last year. I couldn’t get any lower than 130, while all the guys going 139 were walking around at about 150,” Strawbridge said. “That was the conundrum, and I decided this just wasn’t my year.”

Strawbridge had beaten Christian Deguire for the 132-pound championship as a sophomore and admitted it was tough to miss the Brigade finals as a junior.

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“It was definitely tough going that night. Fortunately, I was able to work the corners for a lot of my friends and try to help them win. It felt good to still be involved even though I wasn’t fighting,” Strawbridge said.

Clary and Strawbridge are part of the Navy club program that competes in the National Collegiate Boxing Association. McNally, in his 34th year as Navy boxing coach, noted that Strawbridge was a national runner-up in 2019. Clary lost in the NCBA quarterfinals because he did not throw enough punches, the veteran coach said.

Strawbridge will begin his quest to become a national champ after meeting freshman Adrain Johnson in the Brigade Boxing finals.

“Tanner has suddenly developed some power, which is good because the plebe he’s boxing brings a lot of power,” McNally said of Johnson, who boasts a 6-1 record for the club team. “Adrain has shown a lot of potential. When the two of them spar the matches are very competitive. I think that’s going to be a great bout.”

Lekas Seeks to Make History

During plebe summer, McNally introduces every incoming midshipman to the Navy boxing program. Boxing is part of the physical education curriculum at the academy and the tenured instructor also tells the plebes there is a club team they can join.

As part of that introductory seminar, McNally shows clips from a 60 Minutes documentary piece that details the history of Brigade Boxing, noting that some of the most notable graduates in Naval Academy history – such as James Webb and Oliver North.

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Sophie Lekas was struck by the statement that every Brigade Boxing champion has their name etched onto plaques that hang from the walls of the training gymnasium located on the top deck of MacDonough Hall.

“Coach McNally talked about how your name goes on that wall forever. I wanted my name on that wall,” Lekas said.

Four years later, Lekas is seeking to become the first four-time female champion in Brigade Boxing history. McNally introduced female bouts to the Brigade Boxing Championship card in 2004. Lekas is set to make history by surpassing Stephanie Simon, who was a three-time champ on the women’s side.

Navy was down to its third string wrestler at 285 pounds and that proved problematic when Friday night's Star Match against archrival Army came down to that weight class. Ben Sullivan, who is ranked 20th nationally, barely avoided a stunning upset by edging Riley Smith 1-0 and the Black Knights beat the Midshipmen by criteria.

Lekas is matched against junior Olivia DiCarlo, who she beat in the 112 finals as a sophomore. Last year, Lekas was named Most Outstanding Boxer of the championships after scoring a unanimous decision over Shea Augue at 119.

“It feels good to see how far I’ve come since I stared boxing. My plebe year, I sparred with Priscilla Truong and she absolutely beat the crap out of me,” Lekas said. “Coach McNally told me I could quit at any time, but I didn’t. I started seeing improvement then won my first official fight and that’s when I decided I really loved it.”

Lekas was one of only a handful of women’s boxers as a freshman. Now the Chicago native looks around the boxing gym and sees approximately 20 female fighters.

“It’s been cool to see increased participation among the women,” said Lekas, whose father and brother will be in attendance at Alumni Hall on Friday night while a slew of other family and friends will be watching the live stream of the event.

Football versus Wrestling

A couple of former varsity athletes will square off in the final bout of the night. Mike Adzima, a backup offensive lineman for the football team, took up boxing about a month ago as a way to reach the weight standards established by the academy for commissioning.

Adzima played center and guard for the Midshipmen at 288 pounds and is already down to around 250 through the conditioning and sparring that comes along with the afternoon boxing practice.

“Mike is probably one of the hardest workers we have in the gym. He’s the first one in and the last out,” said McNally, who has entered Adzima into the novice division of the D.C. Golden Gloves Tournament.

Adzima is enjoying boxing so much he agreed to give up spring break in order to attend regionals and nationals with the Navy club boxing team. The New Jersey native needed an opponent at heavyweight, so he recruited former Navy wrestler Andrew Piehl.

“Andrew is a really good athlete as well,” McNally said. “Mike is thicker and heavier, but Andrew is taller and is also a real big kid. That’s going to be a great finish to the night.”

Piehl only started boxing two weeks ago and is still learning the various fundamentals and techniques. The Minnesota resident, who logged about 60 matches in three seasons with the Navy wrestling squad, said the two mano a mano sports are similar yet different.

David Forney had recently completed a decorated career with the Navy football program and was preparing to audition for professional scouts. The standout offensive lineman was the absolute epitome of power and strength – a 6-foot-3, 300-pound behemoth.

“I think what translates over from wrestling is the intensity and conditioning. Also, just knowing how to take a hit and keep going,” Piehl said. “As far as what’s different I would definitely start with the stance. In wrestling, we’re taught to get low and shoot with our strongest hand. In boxing, you’re standing straight up and need to lead with your non-dominant hand. Also, you don’t have to worry about defending your legs because with boxing it’s all upper body.”

Adzima and Piehl have sparred quite a bit over the last few weeks and it appears Friday night’s championship bout is a tossup.

“Mike and I have been going back-and-forth,” Piehl said. “We’re about even in weight but I’m a little bit taller. Unfortunately, as an inexperienced boxer I really don’t know how to use that advantage. Coming from football, Mike’s going to be a lot more explosive. It should be a good one.”

79th annual Brigade Boxing Championships

Women’s Bouts

119 pounds – Sophie Lekas, Sr., Chicago vs. Olivia DiCarlo, Jr., Cincinnati

125 pounds – Elizabeth Grimmig, So., Portland, TN vs. Prescillia Truong, Sr., Newnan, GA

132 pounds – Ally Annick, Sr., Pasadena, CA vs. Jill Pashneh-Tala, Jr., Woodbridge, VA

139 pounds – Darcy Stack, Sr., New York vs. Danielle Morris, Sr., Evansville, IN

156 pounds – Courtney Breen, So., Providence, RI vs. Jeannette Steerman, Jr., Lamar, CO

Men’s Bouts

119 pounds – Amir Chase-Hill, Jr., Albany, GA vs. Jake Clary, Sr., Lincolnton, NC

132 pounds – Adrian Johnson, Fr., Dallas vs. Tanner Strawbridge, Sr., Corpus Christi, TX

139 pounds – Chris Eguchi, Fr., Torrence, CA vs. Aidan McNally, Fr., Annapolis

147 pounds – Davon Carter, Fr., Belle Chasse, LA vs. Kendell Louis, Jr., Miami

156 pounds – Jack Jeon, Jr., Frisco, TX vs. Patrick Giambruno, So., Northport, NY

165 pounds – Grant Booker, Fr., Spartanburg, SC vs. Peyton Seago, So., Jackson, MS

175 pounds – Michael Hitchings, Fr., Virginia Beach vs. Charlie Akerblom, Sr., Philadelphia

185 pounds – Lewis Guillory, Fr., Tulsa, OK vs. Francois Benoit, So., Bridgewater, NJ

195 pounds – Vinny Motzel, So., St. Paul, MN vs. Marshall Adair, Sr., Starkville, MS

Heavyweight – Mike Adzima, Sr., Wallington, NJ vs. Andrew Piehl, Sr., Rogers, MN

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