Wharton: Savoring Davis High's football tradition

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Kaysville • It was a little less than an hour before kickoff at Davis High School's sparkling new field with its artificial turf.

Fans anticipating a near capacity crowd of 7,000 reserved spots on the bleachers near the 50-yard line by duct taping blankets to their favorite spot, a long-time Davis tradition.

At the concession stand, Kathy Pozzuoli waited for the first hot dogs of the night to be cooked. Her husband Mark is an assistant football coach. She described the family as third generation Darts.

"I like that you know everybody," she said. "You come to the football games and see the dentist and the doctor."

Picking up a program, I searched for information on Davis High's athletic tradition.

I discovered that this is the 97th year of football for the school, which was founded in 1914 and, until 1951 when Bountiful High was built, the only high school in the county. That means generations of alumni keep returning, even though the school has been rebuilt on the same Kaysville property several times. It's motto is "Defend the tradition," which seems more than a little appropriate.

I liked what current Dart football coach Ryan Bishop wrote in the program.

"The best part of Davis High School is that it is a true community school," he opined. "Because the community is always so supportive of the program, the team's achievements become cause for celebration for the entire Kaysville area. I tell the kids we not only represent our school but an entire community. I think it's a big deal that any time we have success here, the whole community shares in it."

Knowing principal Dee Burton and basketball coach and athletic director Jay Welk, I sought both out for a chat.

Jay has spent much of his career at Kaysville. He coached the last game before the school's old fieldhouse was torn down in 2003. Dee worked for awhile at the Utah High School Activities Association, where he was always helpful and personable. I even remember him as a football official. Burton graduated from Davis in 1964, where he was a quarterback.

But I thought an old football coach such as Jim Dickson, who quit as head man in 2001 after 17 years and will retire from the school when this year ends, might have a few stories to tell about the tradition.

"There are a lot of people who graduated from here who are not living in Kaysville," he said. "They still come back and watch Davis High. A lot of them have done what they could do so their kids could go back to Davis High. Family tradition runs pretty deep."

What I remember about Davis football is its double wing offense, that Dickson thinks was put in place by Lee Liston in the 1940s and was continued by Gerald Purdy, Jay Cullimore, Ward Sawley and Dickson before Bishop finally abandoned it in 2001.

"I was part of the double wing with Gerald Purdy," said Burton. "I could still call that offense today, 50 years later."

When I first began covering prep football in the late 1960s, Davis owned one of the few football fields with lights. Frankly, they were terrible.

With their dark brown home uniforms and almost impossible to see yellow numbers, the Darts would run the double wing, an offense that made it difficult to see who had the brown football under the best of conditions. Dickson chuckled that new lights were put installed in 1984, the year he became head coach.

And why exactly did Davis become the Darts when it could have picked just about any mascot?

"What I was told, the name came from an article about Davis High running backs darting in and out of something," said Dickson. "How that transformed into Davis Darts, I have no idea."

While institutions such as Skyline and West may have topped Davis' seven state football titles and possess their own legends and traditions, the Kaysville school has always enjoyed a more small-town atmosphere, even as Davis has grown into one of the state's largest high schools. What's more, it is one of the top academic schools in Utah.

On a beautiful fall evening, with the stands packed, the school's fine marching band playing and the football team trying to compete against a cross-county rival, it was easy to see why Davis fans keep "defending the tradition."


Twitter @tribtomwharton