Joshua Barbella, a graduate of Moorestown High School, is training to compete on the Army Boxing Team at West Point.
For 20-year-old Joshua Barbella, enlisting in the Army has always felt like something of an inevitability. From a young age, Barbella said he would see a soldier and think to himself that was what he wanted to be one day.
Today, the Moorestown High School graduate is fulfilling that childhood dream, attending the United States Military Academy at West Point and earning a place as a member of the Army men’s boxing team.
Barbella said he didn’t consider himself an exceptional student in high school, but he was determined. As a teenager, Barbella became a certified New Jersey firefighter and an emergency medical technician.
Barbella’s mother, Sarah, said her son started by volunteering with the Moorestown Fire Department, but he wanted to push himself further. So, he went to school on the weekends to get certified. Sarah said her son has always wanted to make an impact.
“He wants to make a difference in the world,” Sarah said. “He’s not afraid.”
Upon graduating MHS, Barbella enrolled in the College of New Jersey’s ROTC program. After a year in the program, a family friend who graduated from West Point encouraged Barbella to apply, and much to his delight, he was accepted. Barbella left for basic training this past July 3.
Once the academic year begins, every student at West Point is required to participate in a sport. Never having boxed before, Barbella said he thought boxing had the potential to be a good workout, so he went to tryouts where he was shocked to find that out of his incoming class of 1,200, more than 150 people had shown up in hopes of making it on the team.
He said he thought the chances of him making the team were slim.
Throughout tryouts, the plebes were taught the basics of boxing and made to test their physical endurance on five- and six-mile runs. The final two to three weeks of training were sparring an opponent.
“I didn’t know the boxing way to do it,” Barbella said of his inexperience. “I just new how to hit someone.”
Barbella won his first four spars against his fellow plebes, but when it came time to face someone already on the team, he was thrown in against a national champion. He said in that moment, he thought there was no way he was going to make the cut.
During the first round, Barbella held his own. During the second round, he took a beating, and during the third round, he thought to himself it was “pretty obvious” that he was going to lose. In that moment, Barbella put the national champion in a headlock, much to the delight of those watching.
“That’s not boxing at all,” Barbella said of the move. “I remember that’s what I did. People were going crazy.”
When an email came in informing Barbella he had made the team, he said he was shocked. Of the more than 150 people who tried out, Barbella was one of approximately 15 who made the team.
Despite never having boxed before, Barbella said he has quickly become engrossed in the sport. His first class starts at 7:30 a.m. and his courses continue until 4 p.m. at which point he rushes off to change for his boxing training. He said his days revolve mostly around schoolwork and boxing.
During his time at West Point, Barbella’s goal is to earn a National Championship title. Barbella said one out of every four of the Army’s team are National Champions, and he hopes to join their ranks.
Barbella is preparing for his first match. He said team members don’t usually know when they’re going to compete too far in advance, since they’ll usually receive an email only days before a match informing them when they’re competing and what weight they need to weigh in at.
In the meantime, to prepare, Barbella and his teammates run conditioning drills on Mondays and Wednesdays and spar with a partner on Tuesdays and Thursdays. At a little over 6 feet and 149 pounds, Barbella said he’s worried about making weight at the 139 pounds his coach wants him to compete at, but he’s ready for any challenge ahead.
For Barbella, attending West Point is something of a humbling experience. He said to walk the same halls that generals who changed the course of history did is moving.
“That’s what makes me want to excel and succeed,” Barbella said of his West Point predecessors.
Looking forward, Barbella said he wants to join the Army’s branch infantry and attend ranger school after graduation. He said he wants to get a few deployments under his belt before he decides what the next step of his career will be.
For Barbella, it all comes down to perseverance. He said he knew the competition was difficult to get into West Point, but he applied anyway. He knew he was up against a lot of competition for the boxing team, but he tried out anyway.
“If you really have a goal set, you’ll make that goal; that’s what happened to me,” Barbella said. “I didn’t think I’d make the boxing team, but I tried. Things happen when you do that.”