High school football: Tradition-rich Davis is on the verge of becoming the winningest program in state's history
Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
KAYSVILLE — Davis High School has always been a pretty unique, special place.
Whether it was the school's seemingly one-of-a-kind mascot, the Darts, or their distinct school colors of deep Brown and Vegas Gold, Davis High has often set itself apart from the rest in many ways, whether it be in athletics, academics or extracurricular activities such as its award-winning marching band.
And soon, the Kaysville school will likely own another exceptional accomplishment. With 554 all-time victories on the gridiron, Davis High is poised to become the winningest prep football program in Beehive State history before the 2013 campaign is completed.
West High, with 555 all-time wins, currently stands one victory ahead of Davis. Keep in mind, too, that West High has been playing football for 22 more years (118 and counting) than Davis High has. The undefeated Darts (4-0) appear headed for another superb season this year and could potentially pass the Panthers (2-2) within the next few weeks, or at least in the forseeable future.
But that's not something that Davis High head coach Ryan Bishop is focusing on at all — in fact, far from it.
"To be honest with you, we haven't put a lot of thought into that — that our all-time win total is getting ready to eclipse somebody else and be the highest ever in the state of Utah," he said. "We haven't told our kids a lot about it. In fact, I don't think we've ever even mentioned it to them.
"Sure, it'll be a really nice thing down the road for this school to hang its hat on. But as a coaching staff, we have not tried to make it into a big deal for this team. This year, it's really not about breaking a record or not breaking a record, especially because everybody in this region is so dang tough.
"To me, that's what makes Davis High unique," the Darts' 13th-year head coach said. "One sense I got when I first got here is the people who have made Davis High so great throughout the years and are continuing now, including the kids, is that they don't settle for being just a traditional school. They always want to improve, they always want to get better. We have a great group of coaches that are all very passionate about their programs in every sport.
"And we have such high academic standards at the school. We have one of the better marching bands in the state; our theater arts program is outstanding, our dance team, our cheerleaders — they're all striving to be the best that they can be. There are so many things Davis High has to offer, and it's not like people here are sitting around and talking about what other schools are doing or what we've achieved here. The people here talk about what they need to do to be the best we can be across the board. We always have that sense of we've got to improve, we've got to be able to do the things that are necessary to live up to and defend the tradition."
Indeed, the school's motto, "Defend the Tradition," can be found above the main entrance of the school for everyone who enters it to see.
That tradition began in 1914, making this the school's centennial year. And, thanks to some outstanding research compiled by George Felt, the guru of high school football history in Utah, and Curtis Pettingill, Davis High's superb statistician, the school has had a colorful, highly successful history along the way.
Way back in the day when coaches had nicknames like "Pug," "Woody" and "Tiny" and usually guided the program for just 1-3 years, only one of the Darts' first five head football coaches — Wilford "Woody" Romney — managed to leave the school with a winning record.
Things started to turn around in the mid-1920s when Jack Croft, Ray "Tiny" Forsberg and Floyd Millet each put together some winning seasons in succession.
Then Delbert "Deb" Young took over in 1937 and promptly won the school's first state championship that year, beginning a string of six head coaches who each compiled winning percentages of .633 or better over a 45-year span.
Howard "Tuff" Leonard guided the Darts to their second state title in 1943, and Lee Liston, who won 70 games in 13 seasons, won another one in 1949. Gerald Purdy's teams won 67 games over a 10-year stretch, claiming another state championship in 1965.
Jay Cullimore took the reins in 1969 and went on to win 74 games and state titles in 1974 and '76 — the only Davis head coach to win more than one during the height of the Darts' famed double-wing offense — during his own stellar 10-year run.
Ward Sawley posted the best winning percentage (.782) of all time by a coach in his five years (1979-83) at the Davis High helm, and his teams won or shared the region title in all five of those seasons — five of the 28 total region championships the school has won or shared in football. And Sawley's successor, Jim Dickson had the longest tenure (17 years, from 1984-2000) and most victories (108) of any head coach.
All of the school's former head coaches are being honored at the Darts' home games during the course of this season.
Which brings us to coach Bishop, who has 82 wins in his 12-plus seasons and whose team won the school's seventh state championship in 2004. He feels humble, blessed and proud to be a part of the Darts' dynamic winning tradition.
And this year, along with their quest to "Defend the Tradition," he has added another great goal for his team — to "enhance the tradition."
"One of the things I talked to my team about was, sure, it's really cool to have all the tradition we have here, but what are we gonna do to enhance the tradition?" Bishop said. "We can't always ride on the coattails of everybody else, we've got to establish our own identity. We need to leave our own mark. And our football kids have bought into that — it's not enough just to defend the tradition, but they want to strive to leave their own mark.
"Whenever you talk about the traditions at Davis High School, it's so important to talk about the people here — the administration, the teachers, the students. Everyone here strives to be their best and to find ways to get better. They keep pushing the envelope and trying to improve whenever and wherever they can.
"Everybody feels that sense of community, trying to be the best that they can be in the classroom and in athletics," he said. "The administration has been phenomenal in supporting the teachers and coaches, which helps us attract really good coaches who are really good teachers as well. And our community is so supportive of all the programs here. If you go to the school musical in the middle of winter, it's packed. If you go to a band concert, you can't find a seat. People who don't have kids playing here any more still come to the school and support everything it does."
All of that has helped make it a dream job for Bishop, who realizes that other schools may also possess similar traditions and community spirit that surround Davis High. He's quick to point out that anyone who thinks the Kaysville school might have a superiority attitude is mistaken.
"It's not that anyone at Davis thinks they're better or superior than any other school," he said. "We have so much respect for other schools and teams and activities throughout the state, because I'm sure other schools are doing the same things we are at Davis. It's not matter of arrogance. From the inside looking out, I sure don't see that.
"We just feel like there's a great sense of tradition and pride that need to be upheld here because of so many other generations who have come through that school and have accomplished so much."
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