OHIO VALLEY UNSUNG HEROES:
SARAHSVILLE — The 1970 Shenandoah High School football team concluded its season with a contest against Beallsville.
Now, only the folks who played in the game, or witnessed it, will likely remember who won.
Gene Davis does, but he was not one of those in attendance that night.
Davis was wrapping up his military service in Fort Lee, Va.
It would be the last time the Zeps would take the field without Davis in house with clipboard in hand.
For the last 498 games, Davis has chronicled Shenandoah grid history.
Through warm late summer evenings, to chilly fall nights, Davis has been there – again and again and again. For generations, Davis has charted every touchdown, every tackle, every possession.
And when the Zeps take the field next fall for the second time, Davis plans on being there. And when he is, Mr. Zep as he’s known in Noble County, will celebrate 500 consecutive games jotting down each detail.
“I guess when I hit 400, I chuckled to myself, that I might as well go for 500,” he said.
That’s the plan.
Shenandoah football wouldn’t be Shenandoah football without Davis there.
In fact, Zeps sports, in general, are better for his presence.
A 1965 Shenandoah graduate (he was part of the school’s second graduating class), Davis had a 39-year stint keeping the shot chart for the boys’ basketball team. He also kept the book for the girls’ basketball team for a time, and kept the book for his brother, Kevin, when he was the baseball coach. But football is Davis’ calling.
“That’s my life, watching those kids play football.”
In fact, Davis was a kid himself when his father, Roy, introduced him to the game.
“When I was 7 or 8, my dad started taking me to football games in Byesville,” he recalled.
In those days, prep football was absent in the Sarahsville area. Barnesville, Caldwell and Byesville were the places to be.
Soon, though, Sarahsville picked up the sport. And when that school consolidated with Belle Valley, Batesville and Summerfield to form Shenandoah in 1963, Davis was hooked.
“When I was a junior and senior, I kept scores of all the games,” Davis remembered.
He missed some games while he was in the U.S. Army and college, but starting in 1971 Davis began amassing a streak that continues to this day. He never imagined it would turn into to what it has.
“Everyone that I’ve ever worked for knew where my heart was,” said Davis, a former longtime Board of Education member in the county and assistant treasurer at Shenandoah.
“There was never any complications with work or anything that way.”
Davis’ father died in 1970. But his mother died in 1990. Her death, on a Friday afternoon during football season, almost caused him to miss that night’s game.
“Her grandson (his nephew) was starting on the line that year,” Davis said. “We left it up to him whether he wanted to play that night.
“Of course, we knew that she would want him to play.”
So, through sorrow, the Davis family took the field that night.
“It was tough,” he remembered. “But I just have to say that we all knew that, in her way, we knew she was there, too.”
Not missing a game in nearly 50 years is a challenge. Good health is key. One night against Fort Frye, Davis’ body wasn’t cooperating.
“It was a cold, rainy night, but there was no way I was going to miss it,” he said. “I wet and took the stats. And, as soon as the game was over, I went and called everything in and went straight to bed. That’s one game where I was sick and shouldn’t have been there.”
In this day and age of iPads and the like, Davis remains a pencil and pad guy. For home games, he has a special perch high above the field where he can concentrate on each play.
“My big thing about keeping stats is I don’t want to miss anything a kid does,” he said. “Any yardage he gets, I want to make sure he gets credit for.”
It’s that attention to detail, and devotion to each student-athlete, that keeps Davis coming back.
“I hope to keep doing this,” he said. “When you hit 72, each year you get after that is a blessing. It’s a gift the good lord has given you.”
If you know of someone in sports in the Ohio Valley whom I could feature as an Ohio Valley Unsung Hero, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RickThorp1