Archbishop Spalding's new boys lacrosse coach, Kenneth "Bear" Davis, paused when asked what would be the biggest challenge in building a successful program. He doesn't look at things as challenges, but opportunities. So far, the 38-year-old Columbus, Ohio, native has made the most of his coaching opportunities. First, he started a program from scratch at Wheeling University in West Virginia, a Division II college that he turned into a Top 10 team in four years. In eight years at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, he built a Division I program that had winning seasons in the past three and was the country's top scoring team the past two. "I used to tell the guys at Robert Morris, 'We have a turf field, we have goals, we have balls and we have a weight room, so what else is anybody going to have more than us?' You just have to focus on what you have and build on that," he said. Davis sees plenty of positives to build on at Spalding as he tries to turn the Cavaliers into a perennial power in the demanding Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association. Davis and his wife, Marissa, have three children: Matthew, a sophomore playing on Spalding's junior varsity team, and daughters Sadie and Kaiden.
What were the biggest factors in leaving Robert Morris for Archbishop Spalding?
I felt like it was a combination of things and it was the perfect storm. I've always been intrigued by the private high school setting and my family absolutely loved being around water, so at that point, I figured I'd at least look into it. And once I started investigating the school and the area, it looked like it could be a great opportunity. So that's how it got rolling. I just thought it was a real exciting challenge and a real exciting place. It's got so many positives and upswings, and I didn't really know what else I needed to do at Robert Morris at that point. We already had a handful of pretty competitive seasons, and I felt like I personally was maxing out with what I was able to give to the program with my family obligations and the level we were competing at.
What are the first things you worked on instilling into the Spalding program?
The first thing we did was we started doing everything in-house. A lot of the guys were doing their own private instructions, they were doing their own pivate lifting sessions and it was great for the individual, but I felt it was horrible for the team atmosphere as far as the way we needed to come together. In the fall, we were at nine guys at the workouts, and by mid-winter, we had 65 guys. And it was one of those things where I could see they felt awful if they were going to miss one. We weren't telling them they had to be there, but it was more like: "If you want something out of the spring, it takes some work." So that was neat to see that evolve early on -- that it's not always about the individual, it's about us as a program. And they all worked out together, too, which I felt was important. They were seeing that it's not just freshmen, junior varsity and varsity teams, but a program that everybody is invested in it. The other thing we spent a lot of time on was getting alumni back invested. We felt there was a huge disconnect. We don't want this to be a Spalding thing for four years and then you're done. We want to make sure people understand that this is an investment for life. We've been getting alumni coming back to games, having receptions here and it's been awesome. So we really have kind of looked at the past, present and future and analyzed where we're at in all those phases.
What's your early impression of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference?
Everybody in the country gauges the rest of their season off coming down here and playing you, so you're every team's Super Bowl. I told the guys it doesn't matter if you're Calvert Hall, St. Paul's, Loyola or us, when these teams come to town, this is where they base where they're at for their season. It's the standard, so you got to strap it up every time you go out there because they're going to be fighting for their lives. I think it says a lot about the conference. It's tremendous; just look at the products in college out of the conference. I've always had a great respect for the conference, and that's why I'm here.
What will it take to make Spalding a consistent contender in the MIAA?
We want to start with our investments with alumni buying in and helping, and they've been great so far. And then the current players buying in and then the recruiting. I've been really pleased with the caliber of the student athlete we've been able to attract. We've gone into some areas that traditionally Spalding hasn't in the past to recruit. I feel like our location is ideal -- you can get here pretty easily from anywhere. Just being right off of Route 97, so maybe thinking outside the box about where we're getting kids. That Annapolis commute is not a whole lot different than the Howard County commute. I started looking at a map and seeing where some of the stronger youth programs are, and there's no question ... we could draw a pretty large circle and say all these are options for us to recruit in.
What's the biggest adjustment going from a college program to a high school program?
For me, just balancing three teams and how the progression of freshmen team to junior varsity team to a varsity team -- that's something you don't deal with in college. So that has been a very interesting challenge and a different dynamic. I think it's fun though because it actually provides a lot better system than college because you get to groom a kid in your program. So it's going to take some time to really pick that process over and make sure we're doing that right.
How did you get your nickname, "Bear"?
My parents called me that when I was born. I was a larger baby, but I didn't grow into the burly 6-foot-5 guy! It still stuck though.