For the first time in almost 25 years, a familiar byline is missing from the Over the Mountain Journal’s sports pages.
Lee Davis, who passed away June 2, loved sports. But most of all, he loved telling the stories of the people who played them. Whether he was writing about a legendary athlete, a coach battling cancer, a hotly recruited high school quarterback or a young player who’d achieved academic as well as athletic success, he was able to share their stories in a way that inspired, encouraged and entertained.
Lee was a graduate of Mountain Brook High School and the University of Alabama. He had a successful career in broadcast journalism and was the sports editor and editor of the Shades Valley Sun before joining the OTMJ family.
“He came in and immediately gave our sports section a lift because he was so well known in the community,” said Maury Wald, Over the Mountain Journal publisher and editor. “During his time with us covering high school sports, he won numerous awards for his profiles and columns about the athletes, teams and school programs in the Over the Mountain area.
“But more importantly, Lee was a kind and thoughtful friend and colleague who cared deeply about lifting up those in the community doing great things on the field and off.”
Lee wrote feature stories as well as sports stories, but his passion for high school sports at Homewood, Hoover, Mountain Brook, North Shelby County and Vestavia Hills schools was unmistakable. His final column for this newspaper was about how Over the Mountain teams had dominated Alabama high school sports this past school year. With his typical light touch, he called the piece “The Island of the Blue Trophies.”
But as much as he loved seeing teams and individuals win titles and awards, he admired young people for more than their athletic accomplishments.
“Lee would often comment about how impressed he was with the character of the kids he covered,” Wald said. “He also liked that he was now getting to write about the children of some of the athletes he wrote about in the 1970s.”
When Doug Layton died in July 2015, Lee wrote a story about the Birmingham and University of Alabama radio legend. In the article, Lee remembered being a young broadcast journalist and getting to spend some time with Layton:
“For three hours in the studio, I watched and listened as Doug told jokes, reported the sports news and interacted with his audience members – rational and otherwise – who called in to his program. His performance was seamless. He was never flustered or at a loss for words. During a commercial break, Doug whispered to me: ‘Remember Lee, regardless of what they say, always give them something to smile about. This is your chance to make their day.’
“I never forgot that advice.”
Regular readers of Lee’s columns and articles likely would agree that he did make many people’s days. Some of the young athletes he wrote about would go on to bigger stages and intense publicity from the national media. But for many more, their glory days in sports would end with their senior year of high school. Lee liked nothing better than giving them their moment in the sun.
One definition of a good sport is “someone who is kind and generous.” We can think of no better way to describe our colleague and our friend.
Donations in memory of Lee Morris Davis may be made to the Crimson Tide Foundation, c/o The Crimson Tide Scholarship Fund, University of Alabama, P.O. Box 870393, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487; to Church of the Highlands, 3660 Grandview Parkway, Suite 100, Birmingham, AL 35243; or to a charity of your choice.
Farewell to a Friend and Advocate
I first met Mr. Lee Davis about a year and a half ago, when he contacted me via Facebook message about writing an article on my basketball team and me. I was at first hesitant to respond, not knowing who Mr. Davis was at the time. But little did I know that once I did, I would accept more than just a Facebook message request. I would form a friendship with someone who would become one of my greatest supporters, other than my family and close friends.
Shortly thereafter, Mr. Davis called me for the interview. As I nervously answered his phone call, his greeting and voice immediately calmed any nerves I had. He was very kind and complimentary and put me at ease immediately. You could tell in his voice how excited he was and how much he loved what he was doing. Mr. Davis wrote the nicest article about my team and me, and it seemed that Mr. Davis was not necessarily interested in just writing a story about my team and my senior basketball season, but he was truly interested in getting to know the people he wrote about, including me. From that point on, Mr. Davis showed a great deal of interest in me, not only as a basketball player, but as a person. It was not uncommon for him to send me a text congratulating me on a good game or a good win as he continued to keep up with me throughout my senior year basketball season.
After basketball season concluded, Mr. Davis, through social media, saw that I had traveled to Honduras on a mission trip for spring break, and he reached out to me about writing an article. When I was speaking to him on the phone while in Honduras, he was very enthusiastic about the orphanage we were serving and the people to whom we were ministering. Again, he wrote a very thoughtful and considerate article.
As we continually kept in touch, he was genuinely interested in my freshman year at Alabama, even as I went through sorority rush and played intramural basketball. In March, when my sorority team won the intramural basketball league, Mr. Davis was the first person I texted because I knew how excited he would be about it. And he was.
Our friendship went further than Mr. Davis writing several articles about me. I hope he knew that he had a positive influence on others far beyond just writing a story. I feel that I lost a great advocate as well as a friend.
In life, family and close friends have to support you. Mr. Davis took an interest in me and did not have to. And for that, I will always be thankful!
Jessica Compton was a Vestavia Hills High School basketball player and a recent graduate now attending the University of Alabama. OTMJ sports editor Lee Davis passed away on June 2. See remembrance on page 32.