Today I received news that my college track coach, High Point University's Coach Bob Davidson, passed away. I remember meeting him like it was a yesterday, even though it was…. Good Lord, it was 30 years ago.
I was walking off the soccer field and this “old” man slightly bent forward, khaki pants and big white running shoes shuffled up to me and asked if I wanted to run track. I laughed and said “not really”. Coach Davidson undeterred replied, “I watched you play soccer and you’re fast. I think you can be really good.” He continued, “I tell you what, if you can run these times in the 400 I’ll give you this much money”.
He asked me about my track experience (Hardly any.) I was a late bloomer, 89lbs as a freshman in high school, and while I was always considered fast my body physically was way behind others my age. I remember dabbling in track in high school in Houston, TX mostly getting ignored with the coaches not knowing what to do with me and I don’t think I ran in high school in Wichita, KS. Instilling belief is a powerful force.
Anyway, Coach Davidson just had this way about him that was direct, tough love, yet gentle at the same time. I honestly can’t remember him saying a mean thing. He came back to me a few weeks later and I agreed to give track a try. I can hear him now when I reflect back on practice. We would run 200 or 400 repeats and I can hear his booming and slightly high-pitched voice calling out the time as we crossed halfway and then got close to the finish so we could stay on our target pace. I fondly mimicked him years later when I coached track in FL and NM.
As I sit here typing this I don’t remember a lot about my freshman year of college. I remember the relays as I anchored the 4x100 and 4x400, I remember Coach trying me out at Long Jump, the 100, 200, and 400. I was above average and could place at the smaller meets winning here and there.
I ran with some world class athletes, Brian Payne now in the Hall of Fame, invited to Olympic Trials and turning it down to go to the Peace Corps and like an 8 time All-American. Tracy Henry an All-American Jumper and relay mate. Brian Corrigan from South Africa another All-American jumper. Donovan Powell, from Jamaica the most explosive sprinter I ever saw who went on to win an indoor championship. Johnny High a middle-distance runner who chain smoked cigarettes and could down a fifth of whiskey and win most races and an All-American. Jerome Adams a relay mate from my first year and Sean Jones a sprinter from Trinidad via Canada. I was surrounded by guys who were far superior to me.
We won. A lot. Brian, Tracey and I. We ran the 4x100 and 4x400 regularly. Brian and I would max out and win our 4 events tying for points but Brian, man Brian was dominant. Tracey was too. But Brian was in another class with the hurdles. Our sophomore through senior years we pretty much dominated the conference and the smaller meets and those guys would do well in the bigger meets at Duke and Penn Relays etc. and they went to Nationals all fours years with me tagging along for 3 of them. We seemed to set new school records every year.
OK, I’m finally getting to the point of this story…
Our senior year we were at a small meet at Francis Marion University. Sweeping our events as usual. Brian was our horse, and our MVP but I was awarded the MVP for the meet. Yes, I won 4 events but with average times. I never asked but I am certain that Coach Davidson and Brian got together and decided to give me that MVP. A sign of respect for hard work, dedication, and love. We earned a LOT of medals, plaques, championships, and trophies over those four years, I have moved over 10 times yet I still have that plaque today and often hang it in my home office. Not as a reminder of the victory but as a reminder of what true brotherly love looks like and more importantly as a reminder of how powerful it can be when someone believes in you. As a reminder of the man Coach Davidson was and the effect his many life lessons had on me, even to this day and for years to come.
Heaven got a good one today and I have images of Coach Davidson calling out split times, pushing someone in heaven to be the best version of themselves in his old school manner. He was a man who cared more about the person than the athlete. No nonsense and had a heart of gold.
I get to look at this plaque and remember all those memories and more.
Thanks for believing in this skinny white kid.
GodSpeed & Semper Fi.
Bob Davidson ’55 – Men’s Basketball, Baseball
Head Coach: XC & Track
A true coaching legend, Bob Davidson served as head coach of the HPU men’s and later women’s cross country and track programs for a school-record 39 seasons. He is still the longest tenured coach in High Point’s history. He was selected as men’s and women’s track & field Coach of the Year 21 times and Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference Coach of the Year twice (1994, 1995). Davidson also earned Carolinas Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Coach of the Year honors 11 times and was named District 26 Coach of the Year on eight occasions. HPU cross country teams won 18 conference championships during his tenure – including men’s and women’s titles in 1997 – while men’s track won 14 conference and division titles. Davidson also was a member of the faculty at HPU and taught exercise science, physical education and sport training classes. He was given the Meredith Slane Teacher of the Year Award (1988), which is one of the highest academic honors bestowed at High Point University. As a student at HPU, Davidson was captain of the HPU men’s basketball team from 1951-54 and was a member of two conference championship teams. Davidson also played shortstop for the baseball team in 1951-52 and went on to play professional baseball for two seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers organizations.