ROCKINGHAM — If it wasn’t for the way he was raised during his early years in Hamlet, Donald Davis believes he wouldn’t have seen any of this success.
It was because of his father’s wisdom and discipline, and his high school coach’s philosophy, that Davis was able to enjoy his induction into the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame on Saturday, April 8.
The Hamlet native was honored alongside the other seven inductees — Herb Goins, Leroy Holden, Robert “Bob” Murphrey, Mike Silver, William “Bill” Steed, Ralph “Jug” Wilson and Marty (Tucker) Woods — at the William and Ida Friday Center in Chapel Hill.
“It means a lot because they’re looking at what you’ve done over the course of a career. And we’ve been consistent,” Davis said. “I respect the people that nominated me to no end because they were great coaches themselves. It means a lot when people start to recognize what you’ve done.”
And what Davis has done is unprecendented.
In his 29 years at Cummings High School in Burlington, where he currently is the head coach of the school’s track team, the newly inducted Hall of Famer has been a part of 26 team state championships. Since 1993, Cummings has had at least one state champion in the hurdles every year.
Davis has been named Coach of the Year in the state of North Carolina 15 times, selected conference coach of the year nine times and was a Cummings Hall of Fame Inductee in 2011.
But none of that was originally in Davis’ plan.
Growing up in Richmond County, running track wasn’t an option. Davis spent his time playing football, baseball and basketball at Monroe Avenue High School — where he learned under coach Charles “C.B.” Hargrove.
“It floors me that I’m in the Hall of Fame, but I view this man as the greatest coach I’ve ever come in contact with,” Davis said of his former coach. “One thing he always did, he made sure we understood why we were doing something. He impressed upon us the idea that if it doesn’t make sense — no matter who tells you to do it — then don’t do it. And that’s my philosophy.
“The things I learned under him at an early age, I’ve applied to every sport I’ve ever coached,” he continued. “And the success now is just as it was when we were in high school.”
Fast forward 15 years after Davis graduated from Monroe Avenue (class of ‘68) and he found himself coaching for the Durham Striders track club. Davis started as a parent just taking his son and a few of his neighborhood friends to track practice, but was asked to permanently take over when the coach of the club’s youngest group didn’t show up.
Although he had no experience in the sport, a few athletes who came up under Davis went on to do well on the high school level. That’s when the girls track coach at Cummings, in 1987, asked him to help out with one of his 400 meter runners.
That runner eventually won a state championship and became the first female athlete at Cummings to receive a college scholarship — and Davis was hooked.
“I realized that track was a vehicle for these girls to get scholarships. A majority of the girls I’ve had who ended up doing well, were not identified as athletes at a young age. They were the ones who weren’t chosen for basketball, volleyball, softball or whatever,” he said. “But track was the sport that gave them an opportunity to be a part of something. They took it and worked it into scholarships and life-changing experiences.”
One of the girls he helped along the way was his daughter, DeAnne, who may be one of the most accomplished athletes in the history of North Carolina. DeAnne went to 16 outdoor state championships and never lost, was a 6-time state championship MVP, was named the 1994 Gatorade National Player of the Year and is the state’s all-time leader in triple jump.
She was also a 4-time All-American at UNC-Chapel Hill.
But DeAnne is just one of the many athletes who have set the bar high for the current and future members of Cummings’ track team. Her father has seen 43 of his athletes accept track scholarships and 25 others accept scholarships in other sports.
“The most important thing to me, and to us, is that they get what they’re supposed to get out of the deal — and that’s a college degree. We have very high expectations and so do our kids because they get the opportunity to see what the kids have done before them,” Davis explained. “They even get opportunities to rub elbows with them because our kids will come back and train with us and help coach when they’re in college. It’s a family-type thing.”
When this season wraps up, it will make 30 years of coaching at Cummings for Davis. He worked as an assistant for both the indoor and outdoor squads for the first 16 years before being named head coach in 2003.
He’s been looking to pass the baton to a former athlete for some time now, but says no one is willing to take over because they all understand how much time and effort was put into making the program what it is today.
And Davis refuses to hand things over to someone who doesn’t hold the same values as he does.
“I guess my buddy Thomas Love — who’s been with me for 25 years — and I will be here in wheelchairs,” he joked. “But we just can’t turn it over to somebody whose only mission is to try and win and not put the athletes first. We have to continue to make certain that these kids see these opportunities that they didn’t know were available.
“At the end of the day, ” he continued, “I guess that’s what we were put on this earth to do. That’s my legacy.”
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. at 910-817-2673 and follow the sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.