Story and photos by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
If you’ve ever attended an event at Huron High School, you’ve probably heard a chant that is simply a woman’s name over and over:
Dottie Davis is not a player on the court or field. But you better believe she’s an important part of Huron Athletics and that she’s at the game. Every game.
Dottie Davis is Huron High School’s well-loved athletic director/assistant principal for the past 12 years, and she was a PE teacher/coach at the school for 24 years before that.
A River Rat through and through, Davis plans to retire at the end of the 2017-18 school year after Huron celebrates its 50th anniversary.
Her colleagues say it’ll take three people to replace her. If it can be done at all.
“She’s the Vince Lombardi of Huron High School,” says Michael Sumerton, who along with Davis and Marcus Edmonson comprises Huron’s team of assistant principals. “Dottie’s irreplaceable, period. When she does retire, it’ll take three people to replace her because you can’t pay one person to work 80 to 100 hours a week like that.”
As Huron High School’s Athletic Director, Davis is known as the woman with the perpetual smile who attends all the games, can facilitate disputes without raising her voice, and who is sometimes found on the Huron campus toting a soccer player’s invalid grandmother in a golf cart.
Edmonson’s son, Marcus, who played basketball, football and track for Huron until he graduated last year, says he’s never met a single student who doesn’t like her.
When he was a little boy, Davis would give him a dollar at every game to spend at the concessions stand. When he became a Huron athlete, she was there at every year, cheering for him and his fellow Rats.
“She’s always been there for me no matter what and was always pushing me to be the best,” he recalls.
Huron math teacher Peter Collins says Davis has long been a pillar of the school.
“What strikes me as most impressive about Dottie is her infectious enthusiasm and her love for Huron High School,” he says. “There is also her superhuman ability to attend virtually every athletic event. I can’t imagine Huron without her.
“All about relationships”
Janet Schwamb recalls that on her first day as Huron’s new principal, Davis and Marcus Edmondson were waiting in the parking lot to welcome her with open arms.
“She helped me move into my office and then took me on a tour of Huron High School,” Schwamb recalls. “Dottie Davis pours her heart and soul into everything she does. Dottie is all about relationships, which is evident in her daily interactions with students, staff, and parents.”
Davis grew up in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, the baby (with a fraternal twin sister now deceased) in a family of six kids. She attended Wines Elementary until her parents built a house in Ypsilanti and moved the family there.
Davis played every sport offered at Ypsilanti High School before graduating in 1971.
Then, while her friends were off to one college or another, Davis made a decision which most 18-year-olds would have found painful: She spent the next two and a half years at home, caring for her mother, who was recovering from carbon monoxide poisoning.
But for one who so values relationships, it wasn’t hard at all.
“Easiest decision ever,” Davis recalls. “I love my mom. She raised six kids. She was a warrior. A great role model. She worked three jobs to raise six kids and modeled very well what hard work was.”
Bottom line? “It’s all about relationships,” she says.
College sports, first job, and a return to Ann Arbor
When her mother regained her health, Davis accepted full basketball and volleyball scholarships to nearby Eastern Michigan University, which enabled her to earn her degree without spending a dime.
As a freshman, she played varsity softball, volleyball and basketball. If pressed, she says softball was her favorite, considering she’s in both the national and Michigan Softball Halls of Fame—and has 20 championship rings for each finger and toe to prove it.
Coming in a close second is basketball, says the woman in the EMU Basketball Hall of Fame.
At the end of a basketball game her senior year, the superintendent of Byron Area Schools approached her and offered her a job teaching PE and coaching.
“I didn’t know him from Adam,” she says. “I didn’t know that school existed.”
But she happily accepted the offer, loving the idea of not having to write a resume.
“He saw that thing,” says Sumerton. “She has that thing. That charisma and will.”
Though Davis loved teaching at Byron, her heart was back in the more diverse Washtenaw County.
So when longtime Huron AD Jane Bennett asked her to come teach PE at Huron, she said, “Sold!” Her first year at Huron was “like heaven.”
During the 10 years Davis coached volleyball, basketball, and softball, she taught the athletes how to be graceful losers as well as winners.
“We always emphasize we don’t like losing, but we can learn from it,” she says. “It’s not all about winning and losing. It’s about the respect and passion you have for the game. I used to tell kids all the time: `Don’t ever disrespect your sport. Too many people have played that sport ahead of you and worked their tails off, so give everything you have.’”
The students grounded her, she said.
She recalls a student who suddenly started showing up late for class.
“He was comfortable enough to tell me that his electricity was turned off at home, and he didn’t have an alarm clock,” she recalls. “I never thought of that.”
She paid the electric bill out of her own pocket, and because the family had been in the country less than a year and didn’t know about public assistance, hooked them up with counselors who told them about social services.
Not long ago, one of Davis’s neighbors happened to meet that student at Best Buy. While talking about schools, he said he had one of the best teachers ever at Huron High School: Dottie Davis. “She saved my life,” he said.
“I heard that, and thought, `How did I do that?’” Davis recalls. “I think it’s just because I cared about the family.”
Athletic director? No thanks!
When Davis was asked to become Athletic Director 12 years ago, she immediately declined. She had seen how many hours Jane Bennett worked and wanted no part of it.
But the AD who replaced Bennet stayed only a year before announcing he was leaving just days before school started.
Davis agreed to fill in temporarily if she could soon return to her real love: teaching and coaching.
But when she was later asked to take the job permanently, she realized she could, in fact, handle such a big job. She’s never looked back.
“No year is the same; no day is the same,” she says. “You’re used to making spot decisions. Boom, boom, boom. That’s what’s intriguing to me: Making decisions on the spot.”
Davis manages the visitors’ side of a basketball or football game, which means she may be the only person standing between 400 visitors and a basketball court after a big game.
When she steps into the home section, the chanting begins.
“But it’s never The Dottie Davis Show,” says Sumerton. “Even if we bring her over to the student section and they start chanting her name, you can see it on her face …”
“Stop! Stop!” Davis says, quoting herself.
“Yeah, for her it’s about the kids.”
One thing’s for sure: She gets a lot of exercise during home games.
At the Pioneer-Huron basketball game a few weeks ago, she logged 18,000 steps.
Never says no
Davis has stocked up an entire year of sick days because she never has time to take one. There’s always a game. Or something.
Her role as assistant principal consumes much of the day, and part of that involves meeting with, observing, and helping teachers improve their skills.
“I sometimes can’t do my AD work til 3:00 when school’s over,” she says.
That means she works about 14 hours every weekday, and on Saturdays, there’s ice hockey, softball or baseball.
Sunday is her day to herself.
“I tell people, `Don’t call me on Sunday. It’s my church day and my day to rest.’”
Last July 11, Schwamb called Davis to ask if she could come in to help interview potential teachers.
Davis, who is known to be one of the district’s hardest working employees, agreed.
“I figured, `Yeah, I have a few hours free. Why not?’” recalls Davis.
A few hours into the interviews, Schwamb got a phone call from Anita, Davis’s partner of 32 years.
“You have to let Dottie get out of work,” she told Schwamb. “We’re getting married later today.”
Anybody who knows about Davis’s commitment to Huron High School is not really surprised that she would agree to work on her wedding day.
After all, this is the woman who thinks a 12-hour day is a light one.
This is the woman who works every day and night but Sunday, whose “other job” as athletic director may start at 3 p.m. after a full day’s work as assistant principal; whose accountant has told her she’d actually make more money at this point if she didn’t work.
Home in Pinckney
Twenty-six years ago, Davis moved from Ann Arbor to Pinckney.
“Too many doggone kids were coming over on the weekends ‘cause they thought it would be fun to hang out at Dottie’s house,” she says with a smile. “I’m like, `You know what? I need to move out of here because they won’t drive 10 miles to see me.’”
Davis lives a block from Portage Lake, with easy lake access for her kayak.
“It’s a nice drive home, so I can decompress on the way home. So when I get there, home is home. And not school.”
Davis has every piece of workout equipment in her home gym in her finished basement use. She’s also added a regulation pickle ball court built into a 100-foot concrete driveway leading to a pole barn, which the couple use as a recreation room with a TV and more exercise equipment.
“The problem is when you’re here 12 or 14 hours a day, you can’t use it,” she says. “My goal when I retire is to be the same playing weight I was when I was in college … I love working out. When I retire, I’ll be working out the first three hours of every day.”
The couple also has a home in Fort Myers, Florida, and intends to split their time between homes after Davis retires.
Sumerton is convinced that something should be named after Dottie Davis.
And he’s thinking big.
“How about Ann Arbor? How about Dottieville?” he jokes. “The Big House isn’t really a name … Davis Stadium at the University of Michigan.”
Marcus has a more practical idea: He’d like to see the road in front of the school named “Dr. (Arthur) Williams Way” and the road leading up to the athletic department by the tennis courts named “Dottie Davis Boulevard.”
Davis says if she won the lottery, she’d use it to buy things for Huron High School.
“That’s when we’d have a Dottie Dome,” she says.
Her advice for the next AD of Huron High School?
“Have lots of time,” she said, with no hesitation. “Have lots of time and energy. Make sure your partner understands what your role is because they have to buy into it. If they don’t, you’ll be miserable.”
“You have to make sure you don’t forget about your family because sometimes I did,” she continues. “I would pick school over my family. If there’s any regret that I have, it would be that maybe two or three times I didn’t go see my sister at the hospital when I had a game or something. In the back of my mind, I knew she’d be OK and I could go afterwards, but some people just jump and go. Sometimes I didn’t take my own advice, which is to take care of family first.”
Davis balks at the notion that she’s irreplaceable.
“We can all be replaced in three seconds or less,” she says with a shrug.
“We can put a body in the seat,” Sumerton agrees. “There’s no doubt that’s going to have to happen. But they won’t be able to do it as well. It’s not possible.”