Not that the humbly understated Norm Davis ever lobbied for it, but he spent 50 years talking his way into the ETSU Hall of Fame.
Davis will be officially inducted on Sunday, and news of his selection silenced the only public address voice most Buccaneers fans have ever known.
“I guess, for the first time, I was speechless,” Davis said. “I thought, ‘This is amazing.’ … I got teary-eyed.”
Davis, who has four degrees in education from ETSU, came to Johnson City from Bakersville, N.C., to start college in 1958. He began doing ETSU football and basketball games in 1963. He did football until it was stopped following the 2003 season, and has done every basketball season except two, which he’s fairly certain were coach Leroy Fisher’s final two seasons in the mid-1970s.
He hasn’t taken any money for his task since 1977. It’s a labor of love for the refined, soothing voice that’s echoed through the Minidome for decades.
Davis began at the ETSU radio station, and soon was working weekends at WJSO. There’s no trace of a Southern or Appalachian accent, although he says might be the first in his family who can make such a claim.
“My own family members had a hick accent,” Davis said. “I was very, very Southern. I started working at the campus radio station with Ed Carter and Johnny Wood … and we kindled a real interest in broadcasting. And I’ll never forget the first tape I made. I still have a copy of it. It is so Southern that I said, ‘I’m going to lose that accent.’
“So I began to tape myself and work on words, and I was working with Mr. Frank over in radio broadcasting. We were successful in getting rid of most of that. And I’m thankful for that, because it put me through college. … I came down and got a part-time job at WJSO in 1959, and it became a full-time job later.”
Daniel Boone softball coach Rick Wagner, who played baseball at ETSU for Charley Lodes, has been the clock operator for ETSU basketball for 20-plus years.
“Norm may be as nice a man as I’ve ever seen in my life,” Wagner said. “He’s always asking about how family’s doing and he’s always asking about how my softball team’s doing. You could be having a bad day and then meet Norm, and he just makes you feel good.”
Davis voice strikes a chord with the Buc faithful.
“He’s just consistent on what he says, how he says it, his tone,” Wagner said. “It seems like there was one time he missed a game and the first thing I noticed when they started doing the announcing was the people behind me started talking about it, you know, ‘Where’s Norm at?’ It was like they just missed that voice that goes along with the Bucs. I thought that was pretty neat. … And not only did they want to know where he was at, but I believe they were worried about him.”
Davis reels off names of ETSU greats like he’s describing a fast break or a 90-yard touchdown run.
“Brandon Walker, he was tremendous,” Davis said. “We had a player years ago, a halfback from Hampton, David Holtsclaw, he was exciting, too. … In basketball, you couldn’t leave out Troy Lee Mikell and you couldn’t leave out Greg Dennis, and of course, the one that I think is the greatest basketball player to ever play up there is going into the Hall of Fame this year, and that’s Mister (Keith Jennings).”
Jennings’ first coach, Les Robinson, was the first one Davis mentioned when asked some of his favorite coaches. John Robert Bell and Murry Bartow were also mentioned. Riding to Bristol’s Stone Castle with Bell and former sports information director John Cathey for a Blue-Gold scrimmage was entertaining.
Davis said he enjoyed working for Cathey, his predecessor Bill Captain and current SID Michael White.
Davis vividly recalls the historic era of ETSU, when Johnson City’s Johnny Russaw and Alcoa’s Tommy Woods broke the color barrier.
“You know, I had a great thrill shaking hands with Tommy when he came whenever they named the locker room after him (this past season),” Davis said. “That was a real treat, a real pleasure.”
Having a microphone in your hand in front of thousands of people can be a dicey deal. Davis chuckled remembering a time in Brooks Gym when the mic was mistakenly left on during what he remembers being an off night for an official.
“It wasn’t clear, because you had to get close to the microphone, but the microphone was still on,” Davis said. “I said something that I shouldn’t have said, and some people heard it. I was kind of red-faced, I’m sure. … I felt bad. That wasn’t a happy time.”
Davis taught school for 33 ½ years, including 10 years at University High, where he coached baseball. His son, Jim, played at UH, was drafted by Philadelphia, and played at Walters State and then ETSU for Ken Campbell.
“When Ken Campbell first came up here, I talked to him, and he said, ‘Your boy is one that I want to play for me,’” Davis said. “I said, ‘Well, okay. We’ll see what happens.’ … He signed him, and we were grateful, because Ken was a tremendous coach and a good man, too.”
One regret Davis’ duties created was missing his son’s first college game when Walters State played at Tusculum. He was working a Lady Bucs game.
“His first at-bat, he came up with three men on base and hit his first home run in college — and grand slam,” Davis said. “And I missed it.”
But generally, his volunteer work has created blasts from the past. Davis fondly remembers the late Wayne Miller, Charlie Fox and Langston High School legend Kenny Hamilton, broadcasting men such as Dick Ellis, former PA announcer Jim Jordan and Ed Carter and former Johnson City Press-Chronicle sports writer Bill Toohey, whose daughter Kim will also be inducted Sunday.
Former athletic director Janice Shelton used to chart fouls for him.
“I’ve met a lot of tremendous people,” Davis said, “and really enjoyed giving something back to the university. I’m in awe of the people that I’ve worked the public address system for – some fantastic athletes.”