It’s been a few months since Anthony Paul Davis (call him Paul), took over the reins of the City of Marathon’s Parks and Recreation Department. But this born-and-raised Marathon man has been a high-profile achiever in the Middle Keys for 30 years or more. He’s been involved in so many organizations, from the Sheriff’s Office to Monroe County School District to coaching various high school teams, it’s best to remind yourself of his current role by double-checking the insignia on his polo shirt.
He says the job he has right now is probably the most impactful.
“I get these kids when they are young. I don’t have to wait until they are in high school, or already in trouble, to have an impact on their lives,” Davis said.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to directing parks and recreation. Some think it’s about managing facilities; others, about developing kids’ characters so they become strong and integral parts of the community. For Davis, it’s about both.
“We have to have the best facilities for kids, so they have the best opportunity to be successful. I learned that in high school playing and coaching track, basketball and football,” he said. “Sports can be dangerous and I want young kids to learn and understand the game before they get to the varsity level. And sports teaches discipline, respect, loyalty and overcoming adversity.”
Davis comes from a family dedicated to education and community involvement. His dad, Arthur “Junior” Davis, stressed the importance of education to his five children. His oldest sister, Diane Culver, and her husband Anthony, operate the Marathon Rec Center, an after school program for elementary and middle school aged children.
“Those three people, that’s who I look up to,” Davis said. “My parents didn’t graduate high school. But I watched my mom read every night. My parents were self-taught and they wanted to make sure we valued education. I was the first one in my family to get a college degree.”
The Marathon High School graduate (1988) went to Western Michigan University, where he played defensive back on a football scholarship. He started his freshman year and played a bowl game broadcast on national TV. It was an epic performance — two interceptions and nine tackles.
“It was the first time in Marathon that anybody played on national TV; it was a pretty exciting thing,” he said.
His bachelor’s degree was in communications. Since then he’s earned two master’s degrees — one in business management and the other in education. He has spent time working in law enforcement, including the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, and in education with various school districts including the Keys. Most of those years he’s also been a coach — football and basketball. Most recently, he was the head varsity football coach at his alma mater before leaving to do the same at a bigger district on the mainland. He’s also bounced back and forth between the Keys and Michigan, where his three children live. All are grown now, with the oldest following him into a community sports focus.
“At one point I left a school job to pursue my dream of being a professional football player with a Canadian franchise starting a team. I didn’t get it and was cut. A few times in my life, I have thought I was ready for something and have been humbled by realizing I’m not. The Lord has a way of showing us things, but I’ve learned from all those experiences,” Davis said.
That combination of drive, focus and humility are the result of his experiences and upbringing in Marathon.
“Growing up, Marathon was very diverse. Race didn’t play much of a role in how we interacted with one another. In fact, when I went to university, I had never been around that many African American people in my life. I learned that people go through the same things no matter where they grow up,” Davis said.
Davis said he wants to be a good example for all kids. He also wants to serve as a mentor and is clear about his own: Joe Widell of the Sheriff’s Office; Ralph Gentry, a coach at MHS; and his college coaches, Bill Bye and Larry Edlund. And his dad. And so he has resolved to treat all the kids in the city’s parks and recreation department as if they were his own.
“I always had a dad around. But things are different now, the things the young dudes are dealing with — single moms, bills, putting food on the table,” he said. “If you play for me, or are in one of my parks programs, I tell the kids, I am going to treat them as if they were my own kid. I will get on you, I will push you as far as I can. But I’ve found that once I start talking with the kids, about life, I make a better connection.”
His connection with the youth of Marathon is like an ever expanding ripple. Davis talks to them, he coaches them, and he follows up: attending graduations from police and fire academies of former students, or sharing a cup of coffee and a little advice with the next generation.
“Growing up, one of my main concerns was not to do anything that would reflect badly on my family. I want to be the best example that I can, honestly, for any kid.”
AFRICAN AMERICANS IN COUNTY, STATE, SCHOOLS
• Percentage of African American residents in Monroe County: 6.9%
• Percentage of African American residents in Florida: 14.5%
• Number of African Americans enrolled in Monroe County School District: 1,004.