MONROE – The Sun Valley-Parkwood volleyball match took a back seat on Sept. 25 as the Rebels honored one of their most beloved coaches.
Bill Davis taught math at Parkwood since 2015 and last season, after serving as a coach previously at Parkwood Middle, took over the varsity volleyball program.
He was the Rebels fourth coach in as many seasons, but his selflessness and resolve left quite an impression on many people he came in contact with.
“We were kind of starting this program together, which was really cool,” said Leah Rothrock, a Parkwood Middle School teacher who began last season as the varsity volleyball assistant coach. “His energy was amazing with the girls, no matter if we were winning or losing the game. It was always the same energy, always laughing and having fun.
“And he got our hitters more aggressive. We worked on shoots on the outside and quicks in the middle. He was big on getting those quicker sets and being more aggressive, and that’s definitely played into our offense this year for sure.”
Davis had already beaten cancer once, but last fall a recurrence of bone cancer returned. And when it hit, it hit Davis hard. Still, he rarely missed a practice or day of work and while Davis was very much struggling inside, you’d never know it.
“You never had any idea what he was dealing with because he was always so positive,” Rothrock said. “Any time you’d see him – and this is students, parents, players or anyone – he’d always say ‘Blessed by the best.’ He’s here battling cancer, and it was the same response every time.”
Alycia Nash remembers how bad Davis’ struggle got.
“He was a fighter. I remember our Charlotte Catholic game last year. He was going through treatments and he had ridden on the bus over to the game. He looked…” she said looking for the right word. “He looked terrible. But he was up there for as long as he could before he had to leave when he couldn’t take it anymore. He wouldn’t let it get him down, though, and he’d be here for as long as he could.”
She also recalls the first encounter she had with Davis, and the initial impression it gave her of the man in whose hands she was putting her daughter’s trust.
In 2015, her daughter, Emma, was a freshman middle hitter playing on the varsity team. Nash said neither her nor Emma knew what to expect at first, but Davis quickly eased any concerns the Nash family may have had.
“He walked up and said, ‘Mama Nash,’” Alycia Nash said with a laugh. “Right then it was like we knew each other forever. I can’t say enough about him. He was a great man and a great coach.”
Scott Laney, whose daughter Addison is a junior outside hitter this season, said his early memory of Davis is a lesson he won’t soon forget. Addison was in middle school and Scott happened to be at practice one day.
“She mishit the ball one time and it went out of bounds, so she said, ‘I’m sorry,’” Scott Laney said. “(Davis) stopped practice and asked her if she was trying as hard as she could. When she said yes, he told her that you never should apologize if you’re trying as hard as you can. It’s something that has stuck with me to this day just because that’s how he was.”
Parkwood coach Deb Balducci knew Davis from her time as the director of volleyball at Carolina Courts and because last year her daughter, Daniella, was a freshman libero on his team.
She took the position to help continue on his legacy and coach her daughter, but Balducci understood the importance of the remembrance on Sept. 25.
Balducci and the athletics department opened the game free of charge to students and welcomed in former colleagues and friends.
Last year, they made special wristbands fighting for Davis and used the proceeds and other fundraisers to raise money for the Davis family.
“Everyone in this room can look back and select a few teachers or coaches that helped to shape them into the person that they are today,” read an athletic staff member while wearing a bracelet on his wrist in support of Davis before the game. “There is no question that coach Davis is one such influence on every single one of the ladies on the court here, as well as the whole Parkwood community. His unconditional kindness, empathy, support, strength and service both to the school and our country are a few of his admirable qualities which made him a beloved figure throughout the community.”
Every player on this year’s Parkwood team was on the roster last season and was influenced in one way or another by Davis.
“He pushed all of us to do our best in the classroom and on the court,” Addison Laney said. “He pushed us mentally and physically to be better at everything that we did.”
Davis touched a lot of souls in his four years in the Parkwood school family. Remembering that is Balducci’s way of honoring Davis.
“He was a great man,” she said. “He was very positive with the girls, he loved them and he was a good role model. I felt like he did well by the girls so I wanted to do well by him. Even in the fight for his life, he was so positive. He was always blessed by the best.”
In April, four months after the season ended, cancer finally overtook Davis’ body and the Parkwood community lost a great man.
But he’ll never be forgotten.
“Even when he knew his weeks were numbered, he’d never make it about him,” Scott Laney said. “He’d always ask how I was or he’d ask how your neighbor, daughter or wife was. I would ask, ‘Well how are you?’ He’d just say, ‘Blessed by the best’ and walk right off.”