BURLINGTON – In December of 1999, Mike Davis was a freshman at Burlington High School. He was trying to find his way as a student-athlete and had intentions of playing basketball and baseball. Little did he know at that time, that his entire life would be turned upside down.
When Davis tried out for the basketball team, he didn't make it. The coach who cut him suggested that he try another sport, perhaps track-and-field. Davis took that advice, signed up but hated it through the first few weeks. Running 400-meter sprints wasn't in the cards for him and also led him to the trainer's room with a back injury.
“I went to the trainer and was told to get rest and treatment for a couple of days. (Former Burlington High School Track) Coach (Ross) Newcomb came in to check on me and I said 'look coach, I'm not enjoying this. I don't know if this is for me'. He explained to me that there's a lot of other events I could try,” said Davis. “He saw potential in me that I didn't even know about. He suggested for me to try throwing the shot put. For me, if it got me out of these brutal workouts, I was in.”
Davis, 36, took on that challenge and Newcomb explained the ins-and-outs of throwing the shot put. Around that same time, Mike's father, Bob, got sick and passed away. Mike could have easily given up on everything during those dark days. He was 14 years old, he was going through the awkward first few months of high school, he was learning a new sport and a new event to compete in, and above all, he lost his father. The same guy, who when Mike was two years old, put a baseball in his left hand, thinking his son would have a competitive edge by being a southpaw.
Now 22 years later, since making the switch from a 400-meter runner to a shot put thrower and learning that craft with a big hole in his heart, Davis, the 11-year assistant coach of the Tewksbury Memorial High School spring boys and girls track teams, will be inducted into the Burlington High School Athletic Hall of Fame on Thursday, October 7th.
“(When I lost my father)I was devastated. It was definitely hard. Sports were an outlet for me. I'm glad that I had sports because it kept me occupied and I just dove head first into that,” said Davis. “I just focused on sports and immersed myself into that, which kept my mind occupied. I found that helped. I know my dad wouldn't want me to be the 'oh poor me' and that stuff and I know he would want me to continue on. My dad was into sports and growing up my parents always encouraged me to play sports. My dad was always my little league coach in baseball and he always took an interest in what I was doing. That period of my life was very hard – I was 14 years old.
“I was only a part of the track team for maybe a month and then my dad got sick and passed away. I still remember that Coach Newcomb and Coach (Matt) Carr came to my father's wake and I had only been on the team for a handful of weeks. I was just so surprised by that and it just speaks to not only their character, but also the example that they set for the track program at Burlington.”
Newcomb was an incredible influence on Davis, and really helped mold him into a superior track athlete. At first, it didn't seem that way.
“I was pretty fast at the time so I wasn't sure what I wanted to do (in terms of events). I just figured to go where Coach Newcomb told me to go. I started as a 400-meter runner and those first couple of workouts were absolutely miserable,” he said. “I really did hate it. He had me try the 400 and then I did a couple of the JV dashes, the 55-meter dash and I liked that because I was short and I enjoyed the sprints. Those sprint workouts were hard and I just remember being exhausted.”
The back injury led him to the shot put, and not knowing anything about the event, Davis said that he got help from some teammates.
“The upperclassmen who were already there and established, they were awesome. They were so nice and welcoming to me, they were competitive. I didn't know anything and had no idea what I was doing. They just helped me and showed me the ropes. Looking back, I really appreciate that because as a coach now, you don't always see the older kids showing the younger kids the ropes. They just do their own thing,” said Davis.
The shot put didn't come easy, but Davis made sure that he learned everything he could, while getting faster and stronger.
“I learned the glide (technique) from Coach Newcomb and then worked at it, worked at it and worked at it some more,” said Davis. “I just really devoted myself to it during the season, in the off-season, in the weight room and then things started to really take off towards the end of my junior year.
“I was one of the more undersized kids at every track meet that I went to. The kids who I ended up throwing against were linemen in football and 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 and at least 250 pounds and I was like 6-0 and maybe a little bit over 200 pounds so compared to those kids I was undersized. For me what worked to my advantage was I had quickness. That definitely helps with throwing. Then working with Coach Newcomb, I started to get better with my technique, slowly but surely and then it just started to progress from there.”
By the end of the dual meet season, Davis had improved a great deal, so much so, he placed fourth at the Class C Eastern Mass Championship Meet. The following week, he competed at the All-State Meet and finished in last place.
“I threw like 43 feet, which was like five or six below my personal best and I had a terrible day,” he recalled. “I promised myself that next year when I come back that I am not going to finish in last place. I told myself that I wanted to come back and win a state championship and an All-State championship. Finishing in last place at the All-State Meet stuck with me. I failed and I tell the kids now that I coach in Tewksbury, failure is a great teacher. I just kept telling myself that it was going to be a different story next year. With the work that I was putting in, I thought that was a feasible, attainable goal to win a state and All-State title. I truly believed that if I continued to put the work in, and work with Coach Newcomb, that it could happen.”
One way to do that was to get more practice and competitive reps, but his true love of baseball was standing in the way.
“I was hoping to make the varsity baseball team but that wasn't set in stone because we had a lot of good baseball players. I had an honest conversation with (former) Coach (Jim) Curtin, who told me that I would probably start the season off at JV but who knows, maybe I would end up on varsity,” said Davis. “I wrestled with that decision for so long. I had so many sleepless nights over that. I had played baseball my entire life from tee-ball, all the way up and I did all of the summer travel teams, too. I played baseball any chance that I could. When I made the decision to go to track, I second guessed myself a bunch of times and after a lot of thought, I realized that I had a chance to accomplish something in track. Plus, Coach Newcomb told me that there were more events I could do with spring track so that sealed the deal for me.”
Davis joined the outdoor track team and still competed in the shot put, but added discus. He continued to get better, but didn't place as high as he did during the indoor season. Then about five months later, he was back at it for his senior year and last two track seasons. During that indoor season, he went from finishing fourth at the Class C Meet to winning it, throwing 54-00.25.
“He was very coachable,” said Joe LeVasseur, the BHS girls track and field coach during Davis’ years. “He was a good listener. I always say, give me a good listener and a good student and I’ll give you a state champion and he was a hard-working athlete that did everything his coaches asked him to do. That’s why he was so successful.”
The following week at the All-States, Davis, who the year before finished dead last, finished second in the entire state, losing to a guy named Ryan Byrne, from Tewksbury.
“Ryan and I battled in all of those (post-season) meets. We were cordial. Today it's different than it was when I competed. Today everyone is social with one another and they talk, but I didn't talk to anyone when I competed. In the competition, I tried to have that killer mentality. I wanted to win and during the actual competition, I didn't talk to anyone, not even my mom and she knew that and knew how I was when I completed. The only person I talked to was Coach Newcomb. Ryan was always nice to me. The two of us always had a back-and-forth battle going on in the bigger meets. Competition with him certainly brought out the best in me.”
Finishing behind Byrne didn't put Davis into a “foul” mood. Now it was time to get serious.
“I won the Class Meet title and then took second at the All-States to Ryan. I told myself that I wasn't going to lose during the spring season. I am a very competitive guy and I still am. I hate losing. I hate losing more than I enjoy winning. It's just how I'm wired and I think as an athlete, that has helped me and same way as a coach. I'm a very competitive person and I just always want to do my best, try my best and to me, if you're not going to try to be the best at what you're doing, then what's the point of doing it? That's how I look at it and how I have always operated as an athlete, as a coach, as a teacher, as a friend, as a son – I want to be the best at whatever I'm doing,” said Davis, who finished 11th in the National Meet during that indoor season.
Davis kept up that momentum as he headed into his final high school track season, the spring of 2003. He finished as the Eastern Mass and All-State Champion, before taking fifth at New England. His best throw of 55-7 at the All-States broke a school record, which still stands today.
“I told myself that I was not going to lose at All-States in the spring. That was the ultimate goal and that's all I cared about. I wanted to win an All-State championship. After I won the Class title, going into the All-States, I really, really, really, really, really wanted to win that day,” said Davis with a laugh. “At the meet, I remember the weather forecast wasn't looking too good. It rained during some of the track meet so the circle was a little bit slick. I remember Coach Newcomb telling me to slow down a little bit because I would always get really amped up when I competed. The shot put is an extremely explosive, fast event, so having that killer instinct and killer mentality, I just always wanted to be in that zone and I found that intensity from track meets, always helped me. I just tried to bring it to another level.
“My first couple of throws weren't too great and then I popped one. The second the event was over, and I still remember it to this day, the sun came out and the skies opened up, and I looked up to the sky and I just couldn't believe that I actually did it.”
Upon graduating, Davis had the All-State Championship title, two Eastern Mass titles, finished fifth in New England and 11th at Nationals and broke the indoor and outdoor school records. In addition, he combined with teammates Sean Colella and Dan Hoarty to win the discus title at the Eastern Mass relay meet.
After graduating from BHS, Davis went to UMass-Lowell where he continued to dominate, with a career best mark of 53-6, this coming while the shot put weighed 16 pounds, as opposed to 12 in high school. Today his mark of 51-7 from the 2007 New England Outdoor Championships, ranks fifth all-time in UML history.
Right after he graduated from college, Davis dealt with another difficult loss, his only sibling, his sister Karoline, passed away in 2008 with complications from heart disease.
“I would be lost without my mom. She was a crutch that I leaned on for a long time. Going through those losses was definitely difficult,” he said of his mother Judy, who spent 30-years as a teacher at the Marshall Middle School in Billerica. “I relied heavily on my Mom and sports was just such a great outlet for me. I kept myself busy with sports and my Mom kept me on the straight and narrow for a long time and I can't thank her enough for that. Without her, this conversation, my athletic career, none of it would have happened without her. She's been an enormous impact on my life.”
Once Mike's competitive days were over, and it was his college throws coach Barbara Smith, who suggested that he would be a good coach. He tried it out, and after a season of volunteering at BHS, he spent five years at Lowell High School before coming to Tewksbury. He has spent the previous 11 years as the throws coach, guiding Krista Stracqualursi and Andrew Froio to Class C titles in the shot put.
“It's truly the right place at the right time. I can't say enough good things about the coaches at Tewksbury,” said Davis, who has worked the past eleven years as a special education teacher at Billerica High. “Peter Molloy has been wonderful to me and he plugged me in right away. We have a group of young, passionate, good coaches and that's a recipe for a great program. You have a bunch of people who are knowledgeable in their events, they are great working with kids and they are patient.
“To have Jill Paige, (Fran) Cusick, (former head coach) Molloy and (Peter) Fortunato and all of them are just so great with the kids, they know their stuff, they hold the kids accountable so to me it was a no-brainer joining Tewksbury. And they had success – the girls program was already well-established before I got there. I have loved my time there, we have had some great success and there's just a great group of kids so from day one, it's been a win-win situation for me.”
That win-win situation will certainly carry into Thursday as he will be inducted into the BHS Athletic Hall of Fame was one of the All-Time greatest athletes the school has ever had.
“I'm still in shock over this whole thing. I never really thought about the Hall of Fame. I knew that I accomplished a lot when I was in high school, but it's definitely going to be an emotional night for me because everything I went through, and to still be able to accomplish those things, and to do what I did, have those school records, to have the state and all-state championships, I never really looked too much back on it until I got that phone call,” he said. “To see everything that happened and where I have ended up, it's pretty amazing.
“I'm looking forward to the ceremony and it's going to be a great night, but it hasn't sunk in there yet. I am definitely honored. There's a select group of people who are in there, so to join that select group of people, I am definitely honored and appreciative that the Hall of Fame thinks my career is worthy.”
A Hall of Fame career that started by getting cut from another sport.