Aurora Police Cmdr. Kristen Ziman didn't hesitate when she was asked to step into the ring and box for charity.
Then reality landed a blow.
"Suddenly I'm getting text messages that my opponent is in the gym training like six hours a day," Ziman said with a laugh. "She's trash-talking, insulting my mother. It started to get serious — and I've never stepped foot in a ring!"
Fortunately for Ziman, neither has Elgin Police Cmdr. Ana Lalley, who goes glove-to-glove with her Aurora counterpart Sunday, Oct. 27, at the second annual Tuition Knock Out.
For the first time, the community scholarship drive sponsored by the Aurora chapter of the National Latino Peace Officers Association is pitting area police officials and attorneys against each other.
"It's going to be a hoot," said Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez, who holds a second-degree black belt in Shou' Shu' and is squaring off with Oswego Police Chief Dwight Baird.
"I'll try not to deck him," Perez teased, "but we'll give the audience a good show."
Like last year, the event features 15 amateur bouts sanctioned by the USA Boxing Association and the Jesse "The Law" Torres Boxing Club, which is owned by a former professional boxer and retired Aurora police officer.
After that, prominent members of the criminal justice community will cross the ropes for 10 three-round exhibitions.
"We're hoping it's a sellout," said Aurora Sgt. Alfredo Dean, president of the local National Latino Peace Officers Association chapter. "Everyone's been a real good sport."
The punches start flying at 2:30 p.m. at La Sierra de Aurora, 2121 E. New York St. in Aurora, with the exhibition matches following at 5 p.m. General admission tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Children younger than 10 get in for $5, and $50 VIP packages are available. The venue's capacity is about 1,500, Dean said.
Perhaps the most anticipated match will feature Elgin Police Chief Jeff Swoboda and Aurora Police Chief Greg Thomas. The pair head Kane County's two largest municipal police departments.
Thomas, who takes Karate classes, said Aurora police have done numerous fundraisers over the years, but boxing is a first.
"I don't know how they roped us into this deal," he said with a smile, adding that his daughters, ages 17 and 22, are helping him pick a theme song. "A lot of people are having fun at my expense right now, mostly my family."
So far, Swoboda said his training has been limited to his regular workout routine, socking the heavy bag and skipping a slice of pizza here and there. He admits he's being "pushed outside of my comfort zone" but said education is key to fighting crime, and he couldn't pass up supporting that cause in such a unique way.
"Anybody can go out and have a golf event," he said. "It's different than getting punched in the face for charity."
Baird, who met Perez when they were both working narcotics beats in the mid-1990s, said he was thrown for a loop when he was first approached with the idea.
"I said, 'You want me to do what?!' he recalled. "I called up Pat right after it happened and said, 'I don't have any experience, and I heard you used to box.' He said, 'No, I just do mixed martial arts.' Obviously that didn't make me feel any better."
Whoever wins each match wins a scholarship designated specifically for his or her community. Dean said last year's event generated six scholarships ranging from $500 to $1,000.
"Our hope is that we will at least double our proceeds and be able to give out double scholarships," he said.
As the fight draws near, some participants are preparing in creative ways.
Baird used a rope to pull a fellow officer on a toy bike outside the Oswego police station, while Ziman rented the movie "Rocky," looked up "how to box" on YouTube, and practiced "lifting some 8-ounce glasses of Cabernet."
"I'm not scared but I'm not real confident either," Ziman said. "I do have a plan. I'm super fast, so my strategy is to (a) run or (b) go limp. Either one of those will work. In the end, if (Lalley) breaks my nose, it's all for a good cause."