Larry Davis ends coaching career with 595 wins for the Cardinals
By Tom Williams
One of the best pieces of advice that Larry Davis accumulated in his 32-year teaching career was “to get out during a year when I really enjoyed it.”
Davis, Canfield High School’s boys tennis coach for 37 of the past 38 seasons, is applying that philosophy to the courts. He’s stepping down after a successful season coaching a team that included Nick Debiec, Will Brown, Ryan Kaleel, Bobby Long, Alec Kan, David Hoffess and Mason Mangapora.
“They are a group of kids that I really enjoyed coaching,” said Davis, a former science and biology teacher. “I don’t want to get out because I had a year that left a bad taste in my mouth.
“Right now, I have a good taste in my mouth so it’s a good time to step down.”
There’s another reason Davis believes the time is right.
“There’s a really good group of kids coming up so I feel like either I stay four [more] years or I quit now,” Davis said. “And I don’t know if I want to [coach] four more years.”
Since 1977, Davis’ teams (boys and girls) compiled a record of 595-155 and won 27 league championships. Four singles players — Ryan Sachire (Class of 1996), John Gallender (1980), Shalin Shah (2002) and Chris Cuppler (2003) — advanced to state.
Sachire, now Notre Dame’s head coach, won state titles in 1995 and 1996.
“When a singles player makes it to state, that really distinguishes them,” Davis said.
The best player he coached who didn’t make it to state was John Rhine.
“I [still] can’t figure out why,” Davis said.
Nine of his doubles teams qualified for state, with Shah-Cuppler finishing state runner-up in 2001.
Not bad for a guy who had limited tennis experience when he was hired.
“When I was interviewed for my teaching job, I was really hoping to coach baseball, but that was taken,” Davis said. “So Bill Kay, the principal said, ‘Do you know which end of a racket to hold?’
“I said, ‘Yeah.’
“He said, ‘Do you know how to keep score in tennis?’
“I said. ‘Yeah.’
“He said, ‘Good, you’re the tennis coach.’ And that’s how it got started.”
Davis’ next move was to learn from the best.
“I was not a seasoned tennis player,” Davis said. “In those early days, I had some really good kids and honestly I learned a lot from them.
“There was one kid in particular — Brad Brocker — who wanted to try out for basketball,” said Davis who then also was Canfield’s boys junior varsity basketball coach. “We spent one whole summer where I would play an hour of basketball with him and teach him what I knew.
“Then he would play an hour of tennis with me and teach me what he knew,” Davis said. “And I really learned a lot that summer because he was a good tennis player.”
Over the years, things have changed. Davis said the two biggest were improved equipment and better courts. In 1977, players used wooden rackets.
“The facilities are so much better,” said Davis, looking at the courts next to Canfield High School. “My first year, we practiced in the parking lot of Hilltop Elementary. We had no home court so we didn’t play any home matches.
“There were a lot of places where the courts were just terrible.”
Early success with good students made 37 seasons breeze by.
“I really enjoyed this,” Davis said. “The parents have always been really good to me. I’ve had a lot of outstanding kids, not only in terms of their ability but in terms of their attitude and sportsmanship.
“It’s a great sport, it’s a lifetime sport.”
Davis admits he feels for other coaches.
“The vast majority of [tennis] parents aren’t experts, whereas in baseball, everyone is an expert,” Davis said. “The pressure that baseball coaches are under ...
“With tennis, I got left alone a lot,” Davis said. “People were very good to me.”
Especially his wife.
“I have to thank Karen for the understanding, for all the late dinners, for all the weekends lost,” Davis said. “It’s quite a sacrifice for two-and-a-half months.”
“At this point, I’m looking for a little more freedom in the spring,” said Davis who has three children and five grandchildren. “I’ve loved what I’ve done but by the same token, there is a lot of time involved right out of the middle of the day.
“And I’m not getting any younger.”