By Randy Singleton
New Journal and Guide
Family, friends, and fans from across Hampton Roads gathered Tuesday evening (July 16) for a candlelight vigil to honor the life and legacy of boxing hall of famer Pernell “Sweetpea” Whitaker at Whitaker Lane, near P.B. Young Elementary School. Remarks were given by Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Alexander, Virginia Beach City Councilman Aaron Rouse, Delegate Jay Jones, and Norfolk City Councilman Paul Riddick.
Riddick told the hundreds gathered that he would petition the Norfolk City Council to change the name of the Harbor Boxing Gymto the Pernell “Sweetpea” Whitaker Boxing Gym. Riddick and other speakers said, “Sweetpea” put Norfolk on the map.”
Whitaker was born in Norfolk and grew up in the Young Terrace neighborhood. Whitaker, an inductee in the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, won 201 of 214 amateur fights before turning pro in 1984 at Madison Square Garden. Sweet Pea won Fighter of the Year in 1989.
Over the next 15 years, he won championships at light welter-weight, welter-weight, and light middleweight. Sweat Pea retired in 2001 with a pro record of 40-4-1, including 17 wins by knockout. Despite the objections of his promoters, the networks and HBO, he insisted that his big fights be held at Norfolk Scope and that his Booker T. High School marching band play him into the ring.
And instead of training in Las Vegas, he would stay home and work with the late great Bobby Wareing in Virginia Beach. Whitaker died after he was hit by a car on Northampton Blvd, Sunday night.
A vigil attendee said that “Whitaker was crossing the street to go to a corner store to buy a pack of cigarettes.” Police say the driver of the car stayed with police at the scene, and it does not appear that drugs, alcohol or speed were factors in the accident. The Commonwealth’s Attorney will determine if charges are necessary.