Chapman: Wrestling will miss the spunky spirit of Davis

Updated: September 25, 2018

By Mike Chapman

In all walks of life, people come and people go. That is the way of the world. And yet, there are times that it is hard to imagine what the “new order” will look like once a certain change occurs.

That is the feeling that I am left with when I realize that when November rolls around Barry Davis will not be on a mat competing or next to a college mat coaching. The former three-time NCAA champion at Iowa retired after 25 years as Wisconsin’s head coach at the end of the 2018 season.

Barry Davis

A little background, if you will indulge me: I was sports editor of The Gazette newspaper in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, when Barry was finishing his high school career as a three-time state champion at Prairie High School in Cedar Rapids

Then he moved on to the University of Iowa and really caught fire under the coaching genius of Dan Gable. Wow, talk about unmatched energy (Davis) connecting with unmatched intensity (Gable). It was a veritable explosion of success. Barry closed out his career with three NCAA titles and four Big Ten crowns, as well as being a four-time All-American. He was named O.W. at the 1985 NCAA tournament and was selected Big Ten Male Athlete of the Year.

To this day, Barry is the all-time leader in victories for the fabled Hawkeye program, with 162.

But there is another fascinating angle to his college story. After winning NCAA titles at 118 as a sophomore and 126 as a junior, he planned to move up to 134 as a senior. When he first entered college, Barry had dreams of becoming the nation’s first four-time NCAA champion. But that dream was dashed when he took seventh as a true freshman.

“When that didn’t happen, I wanted to be the best three-timer,” he explained to me. “So by being able to win at three different weights (118-126-134), that would put me ahead of the other three-timers. But Gable said the team would be stronger if I stayed at 126. And I wanted to do what was best for the team so I stayed at 126. It was the right decision because it was best for the team.”

The champion that year at 134 pounds was Jim Jordan …. of Wisconsin (now the long-term congressman from Ohio). Decades later, Jim’s two sons wrestled for Barry and were All-Americans for the Badgers, while Barry and Jim became close friends. What an ironic twist of fate that would have been if Davis and Jordan had met in the finals at 134 in 1985!

Barry claimed a silver medal in the 1984 Olympics at 125.5 pounds and a silver and bronze at two World Championships. In fact, he was a member of the 1988 Olympic Team, as well. And he is one of just two wrestlers to have made a Junior World Team, a Senior World Team, the Pan-American Team and the Olympic Team while still in college (the other is Randy Lewis, another former Hawkeye)!

As a reporter and a fan, I loved watching Barry Davis compete with a non-stop flurry of energy and moves and I know thousands of others felt the same. Barry came to WRESTLE— and woe to the opponent who did not!

But those performances aren’t all that makes Barry Davis so special. It’s the way he has conducted himself through his whole life. He was one of four boys born to Elmer and Carol Davis, and he was taught at an early age that character and commitment were two key factors if one wanted to be successful in life.

He carried that philosophy with him through his entire career, from Iowa to Wisconsin. When he stepped down last spring, he was the winningest coach in Badger history with 234 dual victories. In 2010, his team took fourth in the NCAA and he was selected National Coach of the Year.

What a legacy: the winningest wrestler in Iowa Hawkeye history and the winningest coach in Wisconsin Badger wrestling history!

One of my favorite stories about Barry occurred when he asked a young Iowa co-ed out for a date. Her name was Nan Doak and they went for a long run. Barry was known throughout his career for his superb conditioning — but he soon found out that he couldn’t keep up with Nan. By the time she left college, she had earned All-American honors in track and cross country nine times, was a three-time Big Ten champion and the first female athlete in Iowa history to win an NCAA title in an individual sport.

They have two beautiful daughters …. Amanda, who is married and has two children, and Amy, a junior at Wisconsin who last year was named the school’s Female Athlete of the Year. However, Amy still has a ways to go to match her mother as Nan was named Iowa’s Female Athlete of the Decade for 1980!

Leaving wrestling after over 40 years as an athlete and coach isn’t as big a change for Barry as it might seem. He is now part of the sales team for a company called Silver Star Nutrition. It is located in New Lisbon, Wisc., and is owned by one of his former wrestlers, Brian Slater, and his wife, Hollie. The company is just four years old but the Slaters have a long background in nutrition study.

“It’s a great environment and it’s something I really believe in,” said Barry. “It is all about offering the best nutrition products available and helping people succeed, in sports and in life. That has always been my passion — helping people to find success.”

In his new position, Barry visits schools around the Midwest and offers advice in nutrition, based to a large degree on his incredible performances as a world-class athlete and coach. He wants to help guide others to high-level success through value-proven habits, character and nutrition. It seems like perfect fit for the indefatigable former Olympian.

In his spare time, he will also serve as a volunteer coach at the New Lisbon High School, and explains why he is excited to do that.

“Some people have asked why a former college coach would want to be a volunteer high school coach,” he said with his trademark grin. “But that’s what I have always wanted to do — help people find success at any level. And it’s about giving back.” A devout Christian, Davis feels this is the perfect way to spread his philosophy of helping others whenever possible.

“We are nerds, compassionate, genuine nerds that get excited about nutrition,” reads the Silver Star Nutrition home page. “We test, retest, sample, try again, start over, sample, etc. until we can fully believe our products. We don’t take the easy route, we take the right route.”

What a great philosophy! It is very cool that Silver Start Nutrition has just added one of the greatest ambassadors in wrestling history to its group. It’s a terrific recipe for continued success for all concerned!

(Mike Chapman, founder of WIN Magazine and the Dan Gable National Hall of Fame in Waterloo, Iowa, has written over 30 books on wrestling.) n