A Touch of Sleep

Fighting family man DaVarryl Williamson takes his last shot at greatness.
February 2006
If he fails...well, that's something DaVarryl can't consider. Because there's more than just a title belt at stake.

DaVarryl is making ham and cheese sandwiches, cut diagonally, for his two children, Dantel, 8, and Alayana, 6, and Dantel's friend, Tyler. DaVarryl just picked up the three from school and is trying to hurry them out the door so they can get to Dantel and Tyler's Pop Warner football practice. DaVarryl's finished the sandwiches when there's a knock at the door. A little blond girl wants to see if Alayana can come ride bikes. "Sorry, Alayana is doing her homework," says DaVarryl. "She'll come out to play when she's done."

Alayana looks up from the kitchen table, where's she drawing a snake to hang on her bedroom door. "Dad, I've got no homework today. We don't have school tomorrow."

He closes the door. "Find something to read." He looks for Dantel, who's supposed to be getting dressed for practice. "Dantel, please hurry up." "Dad, where's my cup at?" yells Dantel from the sun porch.

"I don't know, where'd you take it off?" DaVarryl yells back as he ties up a trash bag. "Everyone use the bathroom! Take your shoes off and use the bathroom!"

"I did," says Alayana.

"Go try to use it again."

Dantel has finally pulled on his purple Spartans spandex shirt and is ready to go. DaVarryl grabs their water bottles and hurries out the door. Alayana's bike sticks out of the trunk of the silver Altima, which is bungee-corded shut.

Arriving at football practice, DaVarryl unloads the bike and sets her going on the track around the football field. He helps Dantel fasten his helmet straps, gives him a pat on the back. And then he starts his tour. He moves like a mayor among the parents, slapping them on the back, pulling them in close to whisper a joke in their ears, after which he throws his head back and laughs the hardest of anyone. Once he's found a joke he likes, he'll repeat it to everyone who'll listen. Since I'm tailing him, he makes sure to introduce me, also with a joke. "DeWayne," DaVarryl calls to a friend. "This writer wants to interview you, been asking about you all day." A befuddled DeWayne looks at me, and then back at DaVarryl, who can only contain himself for about 10 seconds before busting out laughing. I'm introduced this way to all the parents and coaches.

Most of the parents seem to know that DaVarryl is a boxer, but they're far from star-struck. If anything, they're underwhelmed. When I'm introduced to Dantel's football coach, he asks why I'm doing a story on DaVarryl. DeWayne jumps in. "DaVarryl's a boxer. He has a heavyweight title fight next weekend."

"Really?" says the coach.

"Uh, yeah, in Reno," says a suddenly shy DaVarryl. "Reno, Nevada."

DaVarryl Williamson, the heavyweight contender who could be the champ, isn't known by his son's football coach.

Which isn't all that surprising. DaVarryl doesn't look like a heavyweight boxer. He actually looks more like a wide receiver or a basketball player. He's tall for a boxer-around 6-feet-4-inches-and although strong, a little lanky. He doesn't have the Mike Tyson compact-ball-of-muscle look to him. DaVarryl also isn't particularly well-respected in the boxing world. He's been a good boxer for a long time, but never a great one. He won two Golden Gloves as an amateur and has had modest success as a pro, hovering just under the top rankings for the past couple years. But heavyweight boxing isn't that popular these days, and hasn't been since Tyson and Holyfield hung up their gloves. With no personality drawing in fans, even the champs aren't household names; a boxer like DaVarryl is not known much beyond his own family.

The lack of recognition is annoying, but DaVarryl doesn't get too worked up over it. Sure, he'd like the acknowledgment, and maybe to make a mark on history, but boxing isn't his life-it's just what he does for a living. It's a hazardous life, but it gives him a schedule where he can pick his kids up from school, shuttle them off to practice, and hang out and watch. Mundane as it is most days, he enjoys his life. If he loses his fight against Byrd, well, he'll have to decide what he wants to do with the rest of his life. It's a decision he's not ready to make. Sitting on a hill overlooking the football field, DaVarryl interrupts his conversation every few minutes to give Dantel a thumbs up or to comment on the coaching. "This is why it's priceless to be here, for the reinforcement," he says. "Nobody's going to look at your son and tell him he's doing a good job. They don't give a damn. I want to let him know that, hey, I'm watching you. I'm over here talking, but you're more important than anything."

Shalifa, DaVarryl's wife, arrives in a pair of sweatpants and a gray sweatshirt. She says hello and then starts walking around the track with the other football moms, avoiding the children on bikes and roller-skates. The scene is the kind of normal suburban life that DaVarryl lacked as a child. With a mother addicted to drugs, and a father in jail for dealing, he was sent to a foster home as an infant, along with his older sister Demetria. Although welcoming, his foster parents didn't have much money. The family bounced around a lot, spending most of its time in the rough neighborhoods of northwest Washington, D.C. He attended classes in six elementary schools. When DaVarryl was 9, his mother cleaned up her act, and he, Demetria, and his half-sister Donna moved in with her and their grandmother in southeast D.C.