She turned down her son’s offer. His beat-up amateur boxing shorts were not making the cut.
Sheryl Morrison settled on black and white boxing shoes and trunks, comparable to this year’s retro 1970’s block colored Adidas outfits at the U.S. Open Tennis Championships. Win or lose, the style would be unique. But remember, this was an amateur boxing event in Connecticut, not professional tennis at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York City.
The audience was composed of a handful of fathers watching their teenage sons boost their amateur records, in addition to a limited number of other boxing enthusiasts. That’s about a 20-something-thousand differences in attendance, as compared to the tennis tournament, but the commonality between these two events was not about the distraction of clothes. It was an opportunity to make a statement.
In the case of tennis, all players search for the opportunity to win a Grand Slam, to make history. In Morrison’s case, it was an opportunity to understand her son’s perspective.
Her son is Chordale Booker, an unbeaten junior middleweight prospect. Morrison is a Senior Director, Financial Planning & Analysis at the Affinion Group This was her chance to finally experience the life of a professional boxer — as a fighter herself.
“It was actually a great experience. But let me tell you the night of the show, I was scared to death.”
Sheryl Morrison on getting into the ring
It’s kind of a cliché — walk in someone else’s shoes. Otherwise, we either do not care to understand our opposition or we settle in our own ignorance. Until you get into a boxing ring as a fighter, how could one possibly understand the motives and lifestyle of a professional fighter?
The in-ring battle is not sparring. It’s not hitting the heavy bag or the speed bag. It’s not a fad celebrities do in order to look tough. You do not play boxing.
Morrison is somewhat removed from the sport. She comes from Brooklyn, home of boxing champs Zab Judah and Riddick Bowe, yet, she is learning the sport, by doing it, as if it’s a new language. She is picking up terminology and knowledge as she goes along. Her son is a willing teacher, and Morrison is excited to learn.
“I told her she would be good.” Booker explained, “I told her throw jab crosses, go around the ring, and that’s it. We worked on that for about four weeks.
“Everyone that was watching [her fight] was admiring what she was doing,” he said. “It definitely gave her the reality of boxing. The anxiety you feel going into a fight. Knowing that there is someone out there preparing for you.”
“It was actually a great experience,” Morrison said, laughing. “But let me tell you the night of the show, I was scared to death.”
Booker is proud. You can hear his smile during the interview over the phone. Even though she drove him crazy, badgering him to do more pad work every day, he was proud of his mother. Booker has a smile that matches his fight style. Not excessively overpowering but genuinely beautiful. It makes the story behind his smile even more illuminating.
Perspective is an important concept for Booker and his mother. In 2009, the consequences for not getting it were pricy. Booker was close to becoming a stereotype. Another young black kid with undiscovered potential who was behind bars, as just weeks after his high school graduation, he was charged with gun and drug charges in Stamford, Connecticut.
Booker reflected on his childhood and explained that he always found trouble. His father was absent most of his life. So, the figure of what he thought was “a man” was his drug-dealing next-door neighbor.
Morrison painted a different picture.
“I had a good relationship with him until he got in high school,” she said. “And then it fell apart. He became a totally different person. He had a good family background. He chose to hang around the wrong people”
“It was tough love. It was hard for my mother. Coming to court and seeing if I was going to be here or not. When I first went to court, they said I had a mandatory of 13 years. It was hard because I thought [my arrest] was something simple. And I realized very fast that this was something serious.”
Booker’s misbehavior at school and around town were minimal as compared to the trouble he fell into at age 18.
“I was in the park. I was with my friends and my family. We were hanging out,” recalled Booker. “And then a guy who had problems with another guy from the other side of town pulled up with cars. And these guys were going to start shooting. So, everyone starts moving around. Running around. But the guys who were driving by, the police were right behind them. The police pulled in the parking lot. Everyone stopped. Searched everybody. I had two guns on me. And that’s basically how my night went.”
Morrison had had enough and kicked her son out of the house. It strained their relationship, because the two could not understand each other.
“I kind of looked at it like I was a failure, because I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t get through to him,” she said. “I would cringe when I got a phone call because I always thought it was the school calling me to tell me he got suspended or telling me he got in trouble or calling from jail. It was a trying time. It was a situation where I partly felt responsible. Because I didn’t know how to turn it around.”
It was a challenging time for the family but one they continued to work through.
“It was tough love” Booker explained. “It was hard for my mother. Coming to court and seeing if I was going to be here or not. When I first went to court, they said I had a mandatory of 13 years. It was hard because I thought [my arrest] was something simple. And I realized very fast that this was something serious.
“To see your mother breakdown like that, I knew I needed something different for my life. It put a strain on my heart.”
His future very well could have been over.
Instead, Booker was put on three-year probation. Any additional run-ins with the police could cost him five years. He made sure to stay away from trouble. Another cliché: He turned to boxing. But it’s the truth.
Time and time again sports reporters write about boxing gyms and trainers who open their doors to stragglers who have unexpected talents in the ring and in life. The Cus D’Amatos of the world have shown their impact on the young troubled kids such as Floyd Patterson and Mike Tyson.
The yellow bulb went off for Booker to try boxing. He spent much of high school engaged in fighting; why not discipline his skills and become a boxer? He started calling gyms in the area. He was drawn to one “tough love” gym in Stamford. Booker never left. He gathered an amateur record of more than 140 wins against fewer than 20 losses. He coined the nickname “Mr. Get It Done” for doing just that inside the ring.
“I keep it straight,” he laughed with that iconized smile.
Booker and Morrison’s relationship built in tandem with his boxing career. In 2016, he won his professional boxing debut against Antonio Allen by TKO. It took about two years to gather a professional record of 7-0 (4 KOs) and less time to grab the attention of legendary boxing adviser Al Haymon, who signed him to his promotion.
BHe will face fellow undefeated boxer Malcom McAllister (9-0, 8 KOs) at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York on Saturday. The venue is the most exciting part for both Booker and Morrison, as all but one of Booker’s professional fights have been away from New York. He fought at Madison Square Garden in the Golden Gloves in 2015, and on Saturday, it will be like coming home.
“It will be a reunion,” said Booker. “It will be a dream come true. To be a part of bringing boxing back to New York.” Cliché words that ring true.
Booker wants his fight on Saturday to turn heads. He has convinced his mother he’s going to the top. The only person who is more excited than him for this fight is Morrison. Come fight night, she will have a mental notebook filled with boxing vocabulary — learning about her son and the sport every step of the way, asking questions and getting answers.
If Booker is “Mr. Get It Done”, then Morrison is “Ms. Got It Done”. She is 1-0 as sanctioned by CT USA boxing.
“Watching him mature, and being able to have a front seat watching his career take off has brought me closer to him,” Morrison said.
Morrison can now relate to every anxious inhale and every hallow exhale her son takes during a bout. She gets it. How many mother-son duos can say that?