Albert Davis Day
- Updated: March 12, 2017
Fiftieth anniversary of landmark game cause for much reflection
The following are highlights from former Alcoa star Albert Davis’ junior and senior season with the Tornadoes. Footage is courtesy of former Alcoa coach Jack Raby.
Editor’s note: The following is the first installment of a two-part series on the 50th anniversary of former Alcoa running back Albert Davis becoming the first black player to play in a high school game with whites in Blount County. Part II will chronicle the Jack Raby years at Alcoa and Davis’ brush with college football immortality.
By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row
Doris Bailey dressed the girls for the game and gave her husband, Bill, a kiss for luck.
Bill would ride to Everett High School with the team. Doris would follow later in the car.
The Alcoa High School coach and his family had received a series of ugly and threatening phone calls over the previous week.
“‘Don’t worry,’” Doris said Bill told her as he left.
As she backed out of the driveway with her and Bill’s four daughters, it became vividly apparent, she said, just what her husband and his team were about to do. Waiting at the end of the drive was a Tennessee Highway Patrol escort that would remain with Doris and the girls for the rest of the night.
“I was shocked when I saw that state trooper waiting there when I backed out,” Doris said.
It was Sept. 13, 1963, Friday the 13th.
Arguably the most mythic figure in Blount County sports history played his first high school football game that night. Alcoa fullback Albert Davis was unlike any athlete anyone, including Bill, had ever seen.
He was big, already 6-foot-1 as a freshman. He had an almost impossible blend of power and speed, weighing 218 pounds and timed at 10.8 seconds in a 100-yard sprint across Alcoa’s Goddard Field – in pads and cleats.
Davis was also black.
He and eight others from all-black Charles M. Hall had begun the integration of Alcoa schools two weeks before, four others from all-black Hale enrolling at Maryville the same day.
Things had gone largely without incident. There’d been nothing like what happened at Clinton, which, in 1956, became the first high school in the South to integrate.
Rioting, overturned cars, threats to the mayor and the local newspaper helped make the first two years of integration there perilous, to say the least. In 1958, an estimated 75 to 100 sticks of dynamite ripped the school apart, Clinton students finishing the year at Oak Ridge.
Each of the 13 students from Hall and Hale had been hand selected in the spring of 1963. Few teachers and administrators at any of the schools were told. Most of the faculty at Hall found out when Davis, his brother, David, and the rest weren’t in their seats the Tuesday after Labor Day for the first day of classes.
Only the brightest students, the best athletes, were selected, and that meant Davis. It’s where the story of what happened at Everett that night really begins.
When it came to athletics, Davis was already an established star at Hall as an eighth-grader, leading the Negro Affiliated Schools in Tennessee in scoring that season. The late Clarence Teeter built some powerhouse teams at Hall through the years.
Davis knew what his leaving would mean to Hall, to Teeter. The school would never be the same and indeed closed its doors a decade later. It tore at Davis. The wound, through the years, has never closed.
It’s an important detail. For all those who cheered Davis at Alcoa the next four years, he carried with him the memory of those he’d left behind. For two long, bitter days initially, he refused to transfer. Alcoa City Schools imposed a deadline for him to get there. Finally, at the urging of his father, Jefferson, he relented.
Steve Fugate was a junior at Alcoa the fall of 1963 and an offensive lineman on the football team. There was a bond between Davis and he right from the start.
Fugate grew up in Eagleton. He would have gone to Everett had his mom not been a teacher there. Fugate’s father died when the former was still a small boy. To encourage him to take a sense of accountability about his life, he said, his mom paid the tuition for him to attend Alcoa.
“She didn’t want me going to a school where she taught,” Fugate said.
Like Davis, it meant leaving behind friends, coaches and teammates.
Bill Bailey, to all who knew the Alcoa icon, was nothing if not shrewd. He knew the backlash that would come with playing Davis. Longstanding-rival Lanier canceled that season’s game.
Bailey got right to it when informing the team, Fugate said. The Tornadoes opened the season at Tennessee High in Bristol a week before school started. When the team bus stopped for a meal, Bailey broke the news about the coming integration the following Tuesday.
“He said, ‘We’re going to have a couple or three football players in the group, and I’m going to let them play,’” Fugate said.
Fugate maintained friendships with many of his Eagleton friends who were now playing at Everett. They were going to light Davis up like Christmas, they told him. It was mostly high school football players talking rival to rival, Fugate said. The racial component of the pending game really wasn’t the issue, he said, adding only the qualifier: “This was the 1960s in the Deep South.”
The landmark civil rights march on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a dream” speech, took place two weeks prior to the Everett game on Aug. 28.
Fugate said he cautioned his boyhood friends not to take Davis lightly. He’d seen him play. Hall played its home games at Goddard Field on Saturday afternoons.
“I said, ‘I’m telling you; you haven’t seen anything like this cat,’” Fugate said.
Fugate got his first close up look at Davis as the latter sat on the trainer’s table before his first Alcoa practice.
“I kind of looked in there, and there sat the best-looking athlete I’ve ever laid eyes on,” Fugate said. “The thought that comes to my mind through the years is we became a whole lot better football team that Tuesday afternoon.”
Davis didn’t dress for the Week 2 game at Loudon. When game night at Everett finally arrived, security was extensive. Representatives from the FBI and uniformed officers of the Tennessee High Patrol, Blount County Sheriff’s Office and the Maryville and Alcoa police departments were all on hand.
“They wanted to be visible,” former Alcoa teacher Ken White said. “As far as I remember, there were no issues at the game.”
As he had with his family, Bailey took no chances with his players. When the bus pulled up to Everett, his words were brief.
“I don’t remember coach Bailey saying a whole lot about it other than wear your helmet,” Fugate said. “He said, ‘I want you to put your helmet on and don’t take it off until you’ve got back on the bus.’”
The stage set, Davis did not disappoint.
Alcoa received the opening kickoff, and, on second down, gave the ball to Davis off right tackle.
“It’s as if coach said, ‘Let’s get this over with,’” Fugate said.
The distance to the end zone varies with whom you ask. An existing newspaper account put the ball at the Alcoa 40-yard line. Didn’t really matter. Seconds later, it was as if a thunderbolt had gone off.
“We turned around and handed it to Albert, and guess what?” Fugate asked. “He took it to the house!”
On his very first carry as a Tornado, Davis had scored.
Just as quickly, “The Albert Davis Show,” at least the opening act, was shut down. He wouldn’t play another snap in the game.
“He spent the rest of the game right over there next to coach Bailey,” Fugate said.
Davis would do things in future years they’ll talk about as long as they play football in Blount County. During the Jack Raby era as coach of the Tornadoes, he set records that remain standing nearly 50 years since. That night at Everett simply wasn’t the time, Bailey must have felt. In hindsight, considering the times, it’s hard to find fault with the decision.
Alcoa would go on to win the game, 27-0, but it came at a dear price. Tornado quarterback Richard Marsh was badly injured during the game, some fearing for his life. Bailey left the stadium with Marsh, accompanied by a priest.
“Bill was up all night with him and didn’t come home until morning until he knew (Marsh) was alright,” Doris said.
She admires her husband for the stance he took with Davis and the others all those years ago, she said. Davis’ career would take a series of painful turns in later years. Through it all, he and her husband remained close, Doris said.
“Albert really showed them that night,” she said. “It was beautiful.”
Just as Davis was the player destiny chose for that fateful game, Bill proved every bit the necessary coach.
“He was a good man,” Doris said. “He fit me to a tee.”