LOCAL FOLKS: Former athlete turns public servant

TUPELO – Calvin “Fred” Davis spent his youth in the 1950s and ’60s impressing his coaches and peers as a hotshot athlete who excelled in all sports.
He played football, basketball, softball and track as a student at Tupelo’s George Washington Carver High School. Then he went to Alcorn State University on an athletic scholarship where he set records in football and baseball.
Scouts for the St. Louis Cardinals organization eyed him, and he got an invitation to try out for the Chicago Bears.
But Davis had other plans. He wanted to return to Tupelo to marry his childhood sweetheart, Nettie Young Davis, and give something back to the community that so nurtured him.
In 1965 – the same year he graduated from Alcorn State – Davis was hired as G.W. Carver’s first African-American health and physical education instructor. And when integration arrived, he became the first black football, baseball and track coach at Tupelo High School.
Twenty-eight years later, in 1992, Davis retired from education to become a brick mason and still performs jobs throughout the city.
These days, “coach,” as his former students still call him, stays active. But his life has taken him off the field and into the community, where he channels his passion into helping others.
“When I was coming up, my father said, ‘Do as much as you can because you never know what you’re going to have to do,” Davis said. “People were nice to me when I was young, and that struck me. I want to give back. I love this town.”
Davis and his wife, who is a third-term City Council member, tend a large community garden and donate the produce to churches and needy families. The aging athlete, now 70, said he didn’t know much about growing food when the couple first started, but that he has become a proficient gardener through lots of trial and error.
He also fishes with his early mentor and former coach, Nathanial Stone, and donates his catches to neighbors and senior citizens for their meals.
When distributing fish and produce aren’t enough, Davis volunteers for Meals on Wheels. He delivers food through the program once a month.
And he donates his brick masonry skills to a host of projects, including work at two new public green spaces – Creative Commons in downtown’s Mill Village and the Green Street Grove in his own Park Hill neighborhood.
His wife was the brainchild behind the grove, transforming a blighted vacant lot into a tranquil gathering place. Davis said he often helps his wife carry out her goals, adding that it’s the best way to spend an active retirement.
“I’m proud of her,” Davis said, smiling at his wife inside the couple’s Barnes Street home. “She does a lot of good things, and I like to be around good things.”

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal