AN APPRECIATION

Jim Davis, field hockey beat writer, The Trentonian (N.J.)

One in an occasional series.

By Al Mattei
Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

I've forgotten the first time I ever met Jim Davis, who died June 4, 2004.

But I'll never forget the first time I got his respect.

You see, Trenton, N.J. is the smallest market in the United States with two daily local newspapers, meaning that both The Times (The Founder's employer from 1988 to 1997) and The Trentonian were competing for stories, angles, scoops, advertising accounts, and readership. This rivalry was embedded in every phase of the business, from the newsroom to circulation to single-copy delivery.

When I was handed the full-time field hockey beat in 1993, the plan was to see every team at least once, seeing as the beat enveloped some 36 schools around the greater Trenton area. And since Pennsylvania started a full three weeks before any of the New Jersey schools on the beat, the early schedule was full of teams like New Hope-Solebury (Pa.), Newtown Council Rock (Pa.), and Bristol Conwell-Egan (Pa.).

Once the New Jersey season began three weeks later, I made sure that my game coverage would be complete in terms of seeing all of my teams, but the stories did not include many of the "rivalry" games which made the best stories.

By the following year, I knew about the Princeton (N.J.) Day School-Lawrenceville (N.J.) and Lawrence (N.J.)-Lawrence Notre Dame (N.J.) derbies, and started emphasizing those matches rather than trying to go to matches just to see one team or the other.

That October, Jim and I were covering the same game almost every day, except for those days I wasn't taking a side trip to Pennsylvania, Burlington County, or the northern and eastern suburbs. One afternoon, before the start of a Mercer County Tournament game, Jim came up to me and said, "Me and my shadow."

That's when I knew I had his respect.

Jim Davis was a field hockey writer of principle. His code was simple, borne of many years of experience.

First, he rarely budged from covering the 17 schools that were in Mercer County, N.J., even though there was a time when his coverage area was almost 50 schools.

"I was young, was crazy," he told me in a 1999 interview. "I was hooked (on the sport). Totally and completely hooked."

Second, he took a liking to players who worked hard and were smart -- not the lightning-quick human greyhounds that the National Futures Program was developing on spring Sundays.

Once, he told me that his kind of field hockey players, written in basketball terms, was a lunch-pail grinder like Grant Long rather than a flashy scorer like Michael Jordan or Julius Erving.

I guess I took that to heart late in my Times field hockey writing career. I demanded (and got) a game every day, made sure to highlight good defenders, and refined my appreciation of the corner flyer, perhaps the toughest position in all of sport.

After leaving Trenton and starting this website, I got a better appreciation of what Jim Davis meant to the sport of field hockey in the United States, not just a single county. Turns out that Davis was the dean of American field hockey writers, having started in 1974. Very few other field hockey beat writers across America have his depth of knowledge, his perspective, his appreciation of field hockey as a family game, and his ability to capture an atmosphere.

These days, I get to see players from 26 states, the District of Columbia, and even the commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Sure, it may be a young and crazy thing to do.

But in order for this site -- nay, the entire American field hockey apparatus -- to succeed, it needs the work ethic of a Jim Davis.

I can only hope to have half of that.

So long, friend.

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