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Davis Gives Back Through Coaching

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What Ray Davis ’86 did on his summer vacation didn’t begin this summer. You have to go back some 30 years to find its seedbed.

You have to go back to his days at Manchester University, where Davis played football and ran track and dreamed of being a coach. And where the core values of Manchester itself – to be your best self, and to make the world around you a better place by doing so – fed that dream.

He always knew he wanted to be a coach. Manchester taught him why he did.

“Probably the big thing (he learned at Manchester) was, I would say, just giving back. To younger people,” says Davis, an assistant women’s basketball coach at Grace College who served as head coach of an Athletes in Action team that toured Ivory Coast this summer. “Giving back what was given me, because it’s not mine.”

That impulse drove him, while still a student at MU, to seek out a job as a student assistant to then-women’s basketball coach Betty Clark, and to go on from there to coach girls basketball for 15 years at Argos, Whitko and Warsaw high schools in northern Indiana.

It even got him beat one time when he taught a Manchester track teammate how to triple-jump, and he taught him so well the teammate finished ahead of Davis in the next meet.

“I thought, ‘Well, maybe coaching is in my future,’” Davis laughs.

It was. So, as it turns out, was Africa.

Davis first traveled there 13 years ago, when he joined a basketball mission trip to Kenya. First they’d conduct a basketball camp, and then they’d talk world AIDS awareness – a particularly neat convergence for Davis, a middle school health teacher who included an AIDS unit in his curriculum.

“When we got back from that trip, I always thought if I ever got the opportunity to go back again I would go back to Africa,” Davis says.

That opportunity surfaced last May, when an assistant coaching position opened up for the Ivory Coast trip and Davis, who’d indicated prior interest, told Athletes in Action he’d “love to go.” A month or so later the head coach landed a college position, and suddenly Athletes in Action was asking Davis to take over as head coach.

Again he said yes.

The team he took to Ivory Coast comprised seven young women from seven NCAA Division I and II schools, and one who had played at Iowa State and with San Antonio in the WNBA. Their assignment was to help prepare the Ivory Coast national team for the Francophone Games – an Olympics of sorts for French-speaking nations that’s held every four years, and to which Ivory Coast played host this summer.

Along the way, the team conducted coaching clinics and camps for younger players, doing what was instilled in Davis at Manchester so many years before.

“I think what they got out of it is just kind of the same thing: the service, giving back, going over and helping their team,” he says.

And learning, as Davis did at Manchester, that there is a much wider world out there than they know.

 “I would say what I took away from my first trip to Kenya was just at times how we take things for granted what we have here in the United States,” Davis says. “So I think that was eye-opening for them. I think this really opened their eyes to how fortunate they have it and how fortunate we have it.”

-- Benjamin Smith