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Davis takes on role of principal at FHS

Ferriday High School Principal James Davis was a basketball coach and an assistant coach in football before taking over as principal. (Julia Nagy \ The Natchez Democrat)

FERRIDAY — James Davis wasn’t too keen on the idea at first.

When Ferriday High School principal Michelle Bethea’s tenure ended at the end of June, the Trojans’ head boys basketball coach was being considered for the position. But Davis said didn’t like the thought of being a full-time administrator.

“Honestly, I really didn’t want it, because when you coach, that’s what you want to do,” Davis said.

After prayerfully considering the opening, though, Davis’ loyalty to Ferriday High School won over his loyalty to the coaching profession. Instead of someone from outside the area taking over at his alma mater, Davis said he felt it was his duty to serve as principal.

“For a new individual coming in and not knowing the kids or the problems they brought in on a daily basis, I knew it’d be difficult,” Davis said.

Giving back

As a player, Davis was thrust into the spotlight almost immediately when his high school career began. At age 14, he ended up getting significant playing time at quarterback for the football team and point guard for the boys basketball team.

Davis went on to play football and basketball at Copiah-Lincoln Community College and Northeast Louisiana, which is now Louisiana Monroe. During that time, he said he knew he’d like to make it back to Ferriday one day.

“My belief was, one day when my playing career was over, I’d like to come back and give back to the kids of Ferriday, just like my coaches did for me,” Davis said.

“I wanted to make sure the kids could be successful, not just on the field or court, but in the classroom as well.”

Davis began coaching football at Ferriday as a defensive backs coach in 1997. He worked his way up to special teams coach, defensive coordinator then offensive coordinator. He also took over the boys basketball program in 1999.

If there’s one thing Davis picked up from coaching, he said, it’s the desire for the entire group he was entrusted with to do well in life.

“Once you step on the field or on the court, it’s no longer ‘I,’ but ‘we,’” Davis said. “You have to look at the big picture — it takes everyone.”

Making an impact

Davis said the role of a coach and the role of a principal are very similar in terms of the impact they can have on children.

“With kids, the one thing you have to think about is that you want all of them to be successful, whether it’s on the basketball court or the field,” Davis said. “But there has to be an understanding that you have to succeed in the classroom.”

Without good grades, Davis said the opportunity for any extra-curricular activities simply isn’t realistic.

“These kids realize that once you go to college and play sports, it’s a business,” Davis said. “They’re only going to want kids who will do what they’re supposed to do and go to class.”

Being brutally honest with the student body is also something Davis has made a point to do.

“I tell these kids to look around Ferriday and see how many jobs there are,” Davis said. “There’s not many. You have to go to college to have the opportunity to be successful.”

It’s not just Davis who strives to be a role model for the students at Ferriday High School. Davis said the teachers do an excellent job with the young men and women they teach.

“These children spend more time with the teachers than they do with the parents,” Davis said. “Some of (the students) are having problems and don’t know how to deal with it, so it’s not just about teaching, but counseling. We wear many different hats on a daily basis.”

Overcoming tragedy

July 15 was a tough day for Davis, who was on vacation when he received some terrible news. His nephew, Ladrian Davis, was killed after his girlfriend, Katina Carter, allegedly stabbed him outside their Baton Rouge apartment at 1 a.m.

“I just held the phone,” Davis recalled. “To hear that was very devastating, but with tragedies, we always want to ask God why, but we must realize, we all have to leave here one day.

“We don’t know how, but we can only prepare ourselves to have a relationship with God on a daily basis and all have the goal to make it to heaven. We have to make the decisions to be sure we’re on the right path to get there.”

Davis coached Ladrian in basketball when Ladrian was at Ferriday High School in the early 2000s. He described his nephew as smart, someone who didn’t need to study to do well, and said he enjoyed being Ladrian’s coach.

“Seeing him mature as an individual and a basketball player was something I enjoyed,” Davis said.

Davis said he made it clear to Ladrian that he didn’t have any privileges just because his uncle was the head boys basketball coach. Davis also recalled one time where he had to get onto Ladrian for not playing to his fullest.

“He wasn’t displaying his ability like I thought he should, and I believe if the Lord gives you talent, you need to maximize it every night,” Davis said.

“I told him he needed to pick his game up, and that he needed to go ahead and get dressed if he wasn’t going to. From that point on, every opportunity he had, he played to the fullest.”

Ladrian played college basketball at Coahoma Junior College for two years and Tougaloo College for a year.

Davis said his nephew was someone that got along with anyone and could talk with anyone and was always happy.

“He got into a little trouble in school, but he came out of it good,” Davis said. “You could see him starting to make changes in his life. I’m thankful he saw the bigger picture.”

Davis also said he’s reminded of Ladrian every time he sees Ladrian’s daughter.

“She looks just like him,” Davis said. “Every time you look at her, you’re looking at him. It’s amazing how God does things.”

Letting go of coaching

After Davis was announced as principal, Ferriday brought back former boys head coach K.G. Watkins to take over the program while Davis moved to an administrative role. Though he attends most Ferriday athletic events, Davis said he doesn’t try to interject himself.

“It’s hard sitting in the bleachers because that coaching aspect kicks in, but I don’t believe in telling these coaches what to do,” Davis said. “If they ask me, I’ll be any help to them I can. I don’t have a problem with that.”