Retired Nicolet swimming coach Dwight Davis wasn't quite sure what to expect heading into the little event the school held for him prior to the girls dual meet with Grafton on Sept. 6.
After all, he headed up the boys and girls programs for 30 years and knows there is a lot of, ahem, ahem, "water under the bridge."
Which means, in his eyes, the event would likely be a roast.
"I got a lot of people with a lot of practical jokes," he laughed, "and I think they'll all be there."
The event honored Davis for his service to the program and to the school as the longtime physical education and life-guarding teacher stepped down in the last year after health issues, primarily a leaky heart valve, started pressing on him.
He's listed as an assistant coach, but he really hasn't poked his nose into the pool just yet this early season.
It's a matter of being polite, he said, to new coach Bill Shuster, a former protege of Davis'.
"I'm just laying low, sitting on the side," he said. "I don't want to be over there when he makes a decision and then he looks at me (for affirmation). I want to pull back so he can get going. Sometimes a parent will ask, 'What would Davis do?' And they really don't want to know that answer.
"Besides, both my wife and daughter are working yet, so I don't even have a car to get there."
He added that he also didn't want to sit there like a guest at practice watching things because when people came over to do that when he was coaching, "he would put them to work."
But that's just the way he is. His teams always seemed to get a towering amount done. The man who coached Olympic champions (Garrett Weber-Gale) and several state champions (Gwen Worlton among others) got off to a rough start when he took over the program in the fall of 1985.
"That was something," he said. "We started out with 48 girls, and we had only 11 by the end. You could say I was an acquired taste. For the girls at the time, it was more of a fun thing to go out for swimming, but I wanted to bring in a new attitude; we were going to do it the right way."
And the Knights did. Though they frequently couldn't quite match the talent level of Homestead, Whitefish bay and later Cedarburg in the North Shore, they were always competitive, and Davis also knew how to get them ready for the big meets. He started the successful "Bananas" youth swimming program to bring numbers up. That program has since become part of the larger Schroeder Aquatics program.
He was direct and honest, and many of his athletes appreciated it. The direct line of communication he had with them earned him the simple title of "Davis." Not "Coach", not "Coach Davis," but simply "Davis."
It was taken as a familiar sign of respect, for a guy who knew what he was doing.
For along with the state champions and the large number of competitive swimmers he turned out, he's even more proud of the futures his former charges have carved out for themselves. Nicolet swimmers always littered the Academic All-State and All-American lists.
"So many of them of them have done so well," he said. "There are doctors, lawyers, independent business people, too. I don't know how many I scarred (with his coaching tactics), but they seemed to have healed quickly after I was gone."
But he is missed — always an active sort, biking to work and working on endless projects around the house (he still has a few he's working on when he feels strong enough). He was alright well into 2014. It was a pivotal year for him and the Knight program as Worlton became the first girls state champion in decades for the team when she claimed the D1 100 breaststroke title.
But a short time later, this otherwise healthy, robust individual had a mild stroke. He was checked out at a hospital, and it was revealed he had a leaky heart valve.
Surgery was held in late January 2015, right in the middle of the boys season. Shuster took over and led the Knights to a successful state meet finish.
The surgery was a success up to a point, as a large part of 2015 was spent in recovery and Shuster headed up the girls team in the fall.
It's been frustrating for Davis. He knew his time was short with the swimming team after such a long run, but he would have liked to gone out a little more on his own terms.
"I'm doing a little better," he said, "but it's the power issue for me because having to get up and move fast wouldn't be a good situation for me. They fixed the valve to what they called an acceptable level. There's still about 30 percent leakage. That would be OK if I had a job pushing papers but not in this situation."
Taking it easy
He can still ride his bike around, but eight to 10 miles in an hour is about the maximum he can do right now; and as for his beloved house projects, he can only go about 2-3 hours before he has to take a serious break. He said work still remains to be done in the kitchen, and there is a retaining wall that needs some tending to.
He's learning to relax a bit, and he planned to enjoy the ceremony Sept. 6. Shuster, Athletic Director Kirk Krychowiak and others put a lot of effort into properly recognizing this giant of the swim world.
"They say old swim coaches just fade away," Davis said. "This has sort of been sort of a slow extraction (out of the swim program) for me. If I would have had to go cold turkey, it would have been really difficult. I'm still missing it like crazy."
His family has been infinitely supportive. He calls his wife Liz, also a teacher, "the brains of the outfit." And that intelligence has been passed down to his four daughters, who include a pediatrician and two doctorate students, one who is studying molecular genetics.
In short, it was a good family day Sept. 6, as Nicolet celebrated the head of its swim family.
Davis only had only one wish for the fine moment.
"I just hope I don't talk too long," he said.