Grunts of exertion coupled with the pop of gloves on punching bags fill the air twice a week when a dozen Englewood Middle School students spend two hours at DaVarryl Williamson's boxing gymnasium.
“DaVarryl and his friend Alyssa Levine came to us to see if we were interested in starting a boxing program for a few students,” Matt Palermo, EMS dean of students, said. “We worked out the details, and the program began with a few students in September. DaVarryl said it is best to work with a small group, so now we have about a dozen students who are there for each session and almost that many on the waiting list as we see if there is a way to perhaps have an additional session on different days.”
Each Tuesday and Thursday, the students arrive for an hour-long workout with DaVarryl and then spend another hour working on homework and academics. TOS Boxing Gym is located at 3910 S. Kalamath St., Englewood.
The session was in full swing Jan. 14. The students went through warm ups, running and doing exercises. Williamson wrapped each student's hands before he or she put on the gloves for sessions on the heavy bag. They worked in teams; one student held the bag while the other punched it. Later in the workout, the kids moved into the ring one at a time, practicing punches by hitting the boxer's heavy padded gloves.
David Brace, a seventh-grader, said his counselor suggested he join the program.
“I came down and watched a session, I liked what I saw and decided I wanted to sign up for it,” he said. “You definitely get a good physical workout in each session. I am in a lot better physical condition now than I was when I started with the sessions. We also do academics, and that has helped me in my classes too.”
Williamson watched the students as they worked out on the heavy bags. He worked with individuals, helping them improve their stances, their posture and how they threw the punches.
The boxer grew up in a poor area of Washington, D.C. His mother was an addict and his father was in prison, so he spent a lot of time in foster homes. He said he liked sports and played football and basketball in high school. Football was his favorite sport, and his ability opened the door for him to attend Wayne State College in Nebraska, where he quarterbacked the football team.
“I wanted to play pro football and tried out for a couple teams,” he said. “I trained hard and took up boxing to help me be a better football player. I eventually found out I was a better boxer than I was a football player.”
He became an amateur boxer at 25, and his record is 102-7-1 with 103 knockouts. He was the national Golden Gloves heavyweight champion in 1996 and again in 1998. He also was the National Amateur heavyweight champion from 1996 to 1998, the only amateur to win the title three years in a row.
He turned professional at 32 and fought as DaVarryl “Touch of Sleep” Williamson. He won the first of four heavyweight championships in 2008 and established a pro record of 26-6 with 23 knockouts.
He said athletics were so important to him when he was growing up that he now wants to help kids in any way he can as a way to give back to the community.
“The sports, the summer camp programs, were so important to me growing up and helped make me what I am,” he said. “All my life I wanted to have my own gym and now that I do, I wanted to find a way to work with kids.”
On Jan. 14, Matthew Abalo, a seventh-grader, hammered the heavy bag with both hands.
During a break, he said he signed up for the boxing program as a way to get in good physical condition and get out of the house.
“The program was harder than I thought it would be,” he said. “DaVarryl makes us work hard. I am tired and ready to go home at the end of our session.”
Nearby Ihana Cavarria punched the heavy bag.
“My mom was a boxer, and she told me it was fun so I decided to try it,” she said. “The workouts are hard, but they help me get in good shape. I feel a lot better since I have been part of the program.”
Cavarria runs track and cross-country in middle school, and the eighth-grader said she wants to go out for those programs next year at high school. She said she would also like to play soccer and be a cheerleader for the high school teams.
Amy Atkinson, a volunteer tutor, worked out with the students.
“I knew I needed to get in physical condition, and joined DaVarryl's boxing program eight years ago. I like the workouts because you have to use your muscles, but you also have to use your mind to properly learn the techniques he is teaching us,” the Centennial resident said. “The workout is awesome. DaVarryl has a way of pushing you so you do more than you think you can do. He does that to me, and I leave here feeling good about myself and what I have accomplished.”