NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Not everyone is on board with the idea to rename the fitness and boxing center at Norfolk’s Harbor Park after boxing legend Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker.
Norfolk City Council passed a resolution to rename the boxing center in Whitaker’s honor, but the move doesn’t have the full support of his family.
The family told 10 On Your Side it’s an honor, but his history is at a different gym.
For Dontavious Whitaker, the news of plans to rename the center after his father comes with mixed emotions.
“It’s no problem that Norfolk is doing what they’re doing, but I feel like the recognition should’ve been gained here first,” Dontavious said.
Dontavious is talking about Powerhouse Boxing and Kickboxing in Virginia Beach. He said this gym is where his father left his love for boxing.
“This is his home. It’s Powerhouse,” said Dontavious. “This is the place he put his time and effort into on a daily basis. A lot of people don’t know that Sweet Pea wasn’t dealing with boxing no more until Powerhouse came around.”
Although “Sweet Pea” grew up in Norfolk and had memorable career moments in the Mermaid City, the family said he didn’t really have a connection to the gym at Harbor Park.
“I’m thankful to Norfolk for doing what they’re doing. I don’t want that to get misconstrued in any way, but he never trained out there,” said Donald Bryant, Whitaker’s nephew and co-owner of Powerhouse Boxing.
We’re told “Sweet Pea” coached and trained a lot of kids at Powerhouse and the family feels this is where his name should be memorialized first.
“He had a great impact on these kids,” Bryant said.
The family said Pernell’s memory is still alive in the walls of Powerhouse and they don’t want his history here to be forgotten.
Still, they’re grateful for the chance to have their loved one permanently remembered.
“We know what Sweet Pea meant to this gym and what this gym meant to Sweet Pea,” Dontavious said.
“If you recognize Whitaker for the greatness he was, that’s beautiful,” Bryant added.
10 On Your Side reached out to councilman Paul Riddick for a comment. He’s the council member behind the push to rename the Harbor Park center, but we didn’t hear back in time for this story.
The family said they hope to have a place to honor “Sweet Pea” in Virginia Beach one day too.