MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- Since his career officially came to an end late Wednesday evening, I'll admit to being a bit late in paying my respects to Polk County girls' basketball coach Ron Davis. But I'm not nearly as tardy in honoring him as Polk County school administrators.
The Wildkittens were eliminated from the Class AA state tournament by South Greene, but before another meaningful jump shot or layup is made next season, Polk County's gym -- or at least the court -- should bear his name.
It's a slam dunk move since Davis coached his alma mater for 34 years, winning at least 20 games 22 times, and his 1981 team is responsible for the school's only state championship of any kind.
While Davis has spent his career coaching at predominantly white schools and Brainerd coach Robert High has spent his 30-plus years at a school with a mostly black enrollment, there are several similarities in their careers. Neither played basketball in high school, nor did either intend to coach the sport when they began their teaching careers. Both now have more than 900 career wins and at least one state championship, but the one striking difference is that High has his name on the wall of Brainerd's gym, while Davis inexplicably does not at Polk County.
Davis was a football and baseball star at Polk County, but his first teaching and coaching job was at Copper Basin.
"I was the youngest coach at Copper Basin, the low man, so they told me I had to coach girls' basketball, and they weren't very good," Davis said. "I didn't know much about the game, but I read every book I could find about coaching the game and watched a lot of film. I stressed the fundamentals then and still do."
After averaging 19 wins in eight years at Copper Basin, including the school's first state sectional berth in his final season there, Davis was hired by his alma mater in Benton. In his first year with the Wildkittens, he guided them to the program's first state tournament appearance. Polk County made it to the state tournament in five of his first eight years, including '81 when they won the championship.
He was there when the TSSAA made the transition from the six-on-six style for girls' basketball, and eventually he pulled double duty by coaching the Polk County boys' program a few years. He and his wife, Tawnya, have two sets of twins, including daughters Hanna and Haley, who are seniors this year.
Davis thought about retiring several years ago, but his daughters asked him to stay until they graduated, and like most daddies, he couldn't say no to his kids. A lot of other families in Polk County are better off for having his daughters convince him to remain these last few seasons.
"He's meant the world to me," Polk County senior guard Hollie German said, choking back tears after the state tournament loss. "My sister played for him before me, and he's been one of the best coaches I could ever imagine playing for."
As cleanup began inside the Murphy Center late Wednesday and Polk County's team slowly made its way out of the arena, Davis admitted the finality likely would not sink in for another couple of days.
"The kids are what kept me in the game so long, and they're what I'm going to miss," said Davis, who finishes with 935 victories. "I've been in it for 42 years and only won one state championship. That tells you how hard it is to get one. But we got back here this year, which means I made it my first and last years at Polk, so I couldn't have ended my career much better.
"We didn't win it, but just getting here is a pretty good place to end it."
Now the folks calling the shots at Polk County should move quickly to ensure a lasting tribute that even us outside the program know is deserving.
There's a family precedent there, too. The school's football complex is named for Davis' brother Larry.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 20 years, starting at the News-Free Press as a 19-year-old reporter. He has been with the Times Free Press since its inception and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation ...