Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame 2023: Switch to track and field led LSU’s Walter Davis to world stage

Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame 2023: Switch to track and field led LSU's Walter Davis to world stage
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Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of stories on the 2023 inductees to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. Induction ceremonies are July 29 in Natchitoches.

Looking back on the totality of his track and field career, it seems nearly impossible to think that it almost didn’t happen for two-time U.S. Olympian Walter Davis.

After just one track practice during his freshman year at Beau Chene High School in Arnaudville, the affable Davis decided he would rather stick with his first love — basketball.

Years of playing against his brothers and cousins helped mold him into an all-state point guard, and he averaged 15 points and seven assists as a senior, earning an invite to the East-West all-star game.

But thanks to the persistence of girls basketball coach Ken Winfrey, who also coached the jumpers on the track team, Davis made a life-changing decision.

It led to an illustrious career at Barton County (Kansas) Community College and LSU, and a solid 13-year international career.

He earned berths on the U.S. team for the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games, and he won two gold medals, a silver and bronze at world championship meets.

That résumé makes the long journey from tiny Leonville, Louisiana, to induction into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame all the more special for Davis and those who marveled at his career.

“Without a doubt, Walter’s the best athlete I ever coached … just from a standpoint of raw talent,” former LSU jumps coach Boo Schexnayder said.

None of it was in Davis’ plans at the end of his first — and what he thought was his last — track practice.

“I go out my freshman year and I’m thinking I’m just going to jump,” Davis said. “Then, (Winfrey) had me running the 400. That was my first and last day at practice.

“I couldn’t jump, and he had me running the 400. I was like, ‘Oh, no.’ ”

Winfrey knew he had to have Davis, who comes from a long line of well-known athletes in St. Landry Parish.

“When I first started coaching in 1989, someone told me if I went to a school that had some athletes to look for the Davises,” Winfrey said. “If you had a Davis on your team, you were going to be all right. I found out very quick I needed some Davises on my team.”

After Winfrey again asked Davis to come out as a junior, he was running the 100 and 200 meters and jumping.

It didn’t take long for the lanky kid with big-time hops to make a name for himself as a 51-foot triple jumper.

“He started doing things that were surprising to everybody,” Winfrey said. “He could just jump and jump and jump.”

Davis won six NJCAA jump titles at Barton County and qualified for the 2000 Sydney Olympics in the long and triple jumps. He chose to compete only in the latter and finished 11th.

Davis then declined an offer from Arkansas to sign with LSU, where he helped the Tigers win the 2001 NCAA indoor and 2002 NCAA outdoor titles.

A nine-time All-American under legendary coach Pat Henry and Schexnayder, a world-renowned jumps coach, Davis won six NCAA horizontal jumps titles in two seasons.

In the 2002 NCAA meet at Bernie Moore Stadium, Davis put together a memorable performance by scoring more than a third of the Tigers’ 64 points.

He won the long and triple-jump titles and ran leadoff leg on the winning 4×100-meter relay team. With 22½ points, he contributed in a way no male athlete had ever done in meet history.

“He’s such a great competitor,” said Henry, a 2021 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame inductee. “You do what it takes to be great, and Walter was good at doing what it took to be great.”

While Schexnayder coached several world-class jumpers, he said Davis stood out from the first time he saw him.

“My first impression was, obviously, the talent,” he said. “Lots of people have that talent, but they don’t want it.”

While it was easy to see the talent, work ethic and competitiveness, Schexnayder said Davis also possessed leadership.

“He held everybody else accountable, and he put the team on his back,” he said.

Former LSU All-American hurdler Bennie Brazell, who is now an assistant for the Tigers, saw that firsthand. He said Davis called him out after Davis joined the 4×100-relay unit as its leadoff runner in 2002.

Only a freshman, Brazell was the relay anchor when the Tigers went to the Penn Relays.

Racing down the home stretch with baton in hand, Brazell appeared to have the title won when Tennessee’s Leonard Scott ran him down.

“I’ll never forget, I got embarrassed on national TV,” Brazell said. “But Coach (Henry) got us together and said, ‘At the end of the day, guys, we just commit to the plan. … We’re going to win this national championship, right?’ ”

Davis, however, had some other motivational tactics on his mind at that moment, which Brazell can smile about now.

“Walter just blurted out, ‘Not if Bennie’s weak ass is on there,’ ” Brazell said with a laugh. “In a way, it didn’t hurt my feelings, but it hurt my feelings. Walter was just telling the truth.”

Brazell stayed on the relay, and LSU won the 4×100 and team championship.

Schexnayder said that accountability was one of the things that set Davis apart.

“As a coach, you had to make sure you had him in the ball park on his final attempts,” he said. “You knew if he was close to the top, he’d find a way to win on his final attempt.”


About Mary Weyand 11096 Articles
Mary founded Scoop Tour with an aim to bring relevant and unaltered news to the general public with a specific view point for each story catered by the team. She is a proficient journalist who holds a reputable portfolio with proficiency in content analysis and research. With ample knowledge about the Automobile industry, she also contributes her knowledge for the Automobile section of the website.

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