OPINION

The champ

Mark Green Special to the Democrat
Booneville Democrat

Booneville had several pretty fair middle-distance runners back in the good old days. In the late 1960s, Gerald Fuller set the school record in the 880 and was one of the better half-milers in our part of the state. Then my younger brother, Robert, knocked the school mile record down to 4:33 when he ran fourth against tough competition in the state meet in 1973. A couple of years later, Larry Rogers went a step further and won State in the 880, then went on to do well at the college level.

Things really get rolling in 1976. My other brother, Evan, was a senior that year. I was married and living at Tech at the time. Evan brought Ricky Dean Davis, his running buddy, to talk to me about why their legs had been dead at the district meet. I found that instead of backing off and doing some minor speed work as the meet drew closer, they had been putting in extra miles of road work, which, of course, was the cause of their leg fatigue.

Rick still qualified for Regional in the mile, and later for the State Meet, which he won. At the Meet of Champs the event was run in pouring rain. A couple of other runners had him boxed in for a while, but the runner from Fort Smith Northside finally took off, and Rick went after him. He caught him on the final turn and went on to become the Champion of the state of Arkansas in the mile run as a junior.

Rick had been an unexpected winner in 1976, but the next year he had a bulls-eye on his back for the entire season. Head Coach Bill Burnett stepped up his training regimen, since it was obvious that he had a special talent under his care. Rick recalls one practice running three back-to-back 880s in under 2:07 each.

Rick ran a 4:23 mile during the season at a meet at Joe T. Robinson, which time was then the state record. However, state records have to be set at the state meet. Therefore, that was the time he was shooting for at State. He missed the record by a couple of seconds, but had no trouble winning the race.

That year at the Meet of Champs Rick was among the favorites, being the reigning champ and having the fastest time in the state. They used a “tear drop” (curved) start for the race, and he went out hard, determined not to get boxed this time. He led from start to finish, won the race by 15 yards, and had his second consecutive overall state title. Keep in mind that he was not running only against the Ozarks and Dardanelles, but against the Northsides, Pine Bluffs and Little Rock Centrals - the heavyweights of the Arkansas high school track world.

Rick got some high level attention his senior year. Legendary Arkansas Coach John McDonnell asked him to walk on at the University. He said that if he could get his time down to 4:12 his freshman year, he could get a scholarship. However, Rick had already committed to Tech.

I do not know what all accomplishments you might find in the annals of Booneville’s long and distinguished athletic history. But for two years back in the late 1970s, the Bearcats had THE best high school miler in the state – little schools, big schools, every school. The lad could just flat-out run.

Rick Davis still does road work, but now he does it in a big rig, driving as an owner-operator for Landstar.