Special to the Grove Sun
GROVE- As a prelude to the Grove High School Class of 1960’s All Class Reunion held last Sunday, former football coach Paul Davis was honored by his former players and students in a reception held in the Middle School Library.
And the tone of the gathering, like the honoree, was one of laughter and camaraderie. One of the event’s organizers, Kelly Hampton, said a few words of welcome to the near capacity gathering.
And on the heels of Hampton’s remarks, the day’s honoree added, “I can’t imagine trying to get by today with the things that we used to.”
Davis went on to relate a story involving him, Hampton and a pair of boxing gloves, saying, “Sometimes when our kids couldn’t settle things on the field, and they were about the same size, I’d put boxing gloves on them. Well after this went on for a while, Kelly (Hampton) decided he’d like to get in the ring. But there really wasn‘t another player his size, so I decided I‘d box him”
Then Hampton took over the story, saying, “Man, I wanted the chance to just catch him with a big old roundhouse. And I swung with all the force I could. I thought that I had landed a pretty good blow.” He said that the coach didn’t budge and just let out a loud ’whoosh.’ And with a chuckle, Hampton continued, “That’s the last thing I remembered before he split my lip wide open.” The unscheduled bout apparently left Hampton in a daze and his young coach wondering if he’d still be employed.
Joining Hampton in honoring Coach Davis were other local luminaries including Charlie Cooper, Bill Butler, Joe Ethridge, Jarrell Browning and Judy Vice, wife of the late Dwain Vice.
Ethridge added that, “It has been a pleasure to have this man in my life.”
Cooper jokingly admonished the crowd, “Not to believe everything that the Coach said about him.” Although suffering from Parkinson’s disease, the 81-1/2 year old Davis’s acuity and sense of humor are as sharp, and in several instances sharper, than those in the group that he’d once coached, which caused him to state, “Every time I go to a doctor, he sends me to another doctor.”
Now having said all of this, I’d like to step out from behind my journalistic objectivity. You see, I’m one of the coach’s former players too. Nearly a decade after Coach Davis led the Ridgerunners, I had the rare and distinct pleasure of playing for him at Bixby High School. I happened to be a very average player on a very good ball team. Joining him at B.H.S. were Coaches Ethridge, Browning and Vice. I don’t know that these four men have any idea the influence they have had on my life. But suffice it to say, I am the better for it.
This group of men took over a football program that went 2-8 in their first year there. They transformed them to 9-2 conference champions that lost to the eventual state finalist Hominy 28-27 in the playoffs that next season. And the year after that, they coached us to a 12-2 record and a berth in the state championship game.
Along the way we were taught some valuable lessons about winning with class, losing with dignity and the spirit of teamwork. Every time I see a football player dancing or in some way celebrating in the end zone after a touchdown, I’m reminded of Coach Davis’s words. His instructions to his team were that when we scored or accomplished some kind of big play we should hand the football to the official, keep our helmet on and “To act like you’ve been there before.”
Indulge me, if you will, another story to illustrate the reason I have such a high regard for Coach Davis. It happened on the aforementioned night that we lost to Hominy. I was a sophomore scrub who occasionally got in a game when we lined up for an extra point. On this night our offense had fought back to score twice in the fourth period. Our second touchdown had put us within one of a tie and two for a win.
When we scored, the extra point team that he affectionately called ‘Fat Men’ grouped together to run on to the field. After all, we had arguably the best place kicker in the state in the person of his son, Butch, who is now the Head Coach at the University of North Carolina. But with his typical sideline fire, he sent the ‘Fat Men’ back to the bench saying, “We came here to win this thing.”
And with that, the play was called and the die was cast. Hominy kept us out of the end zone and we lost a heartbreaker. I’ve been a huge Paul Davis fan ever since. I’ll never forget that night, or the night a year later when we avenged that loss, 27-6, on our march to the State Championship Game.
With the end of Sunday’s gathering drawing near and the embellished endearments, on both sides, giving way to hunger, the man of the hour said simply and succinctly, “I will remember this for the rest of my life.”
And we will remember you for the rest of our lives. I love you Coach!