Work hard, have fun, never look back: Honoring Davis Eidahl

Pekin's Coach Davis Eidahl with his current students and cross country assistant coach Sarah Wright.

Coach Eidahl (far left) with his first state cross country team at Pekin in 1966. Photo submitted. 

            Nearly 53 years ago, Davis Eidahl found himself approached by a superintendent of a newer school district, asking the then young man to come out to Pekin to teach and coach. Needless to say, Eidahl was hardly impressed with a school no one truly knew about.

            “I didn’t want to come here in the first place,” Eidahl said. “I was coaching at Anita at the time and was asked to apply at Pekin. My former basketball coach at Newton, my college coach and my dad put the pressure on me. Finally, I just said ‘alright, but I’m only staying two years’.”

            Two years turned into four. Four years turned into a decade, and then a decade turn into five plus decades of coaching, teaching, and growing with the community itself.

            “It’s the closeness of everybody. The parents, the administration, we’re all a close-knit group,” Eidahl said. “Everyone takes a deep interest in the kids themselves, and sometimes you don’t see that up close. There’s a few of us, like myself, that have stayed here a long time, and you don’t see too many schools like ours.”

            On Monday, Oct. 16, that very same “close-knit group” came together to celebrate a lifetime of coaching, teaching, and dedication to the Pekin community as Eidahl was honored as a top 15 finalist for the U.S. Cellular Most Valuable Coach. The longtime coach was among 50 semifinalists across the country, nominated by his longtime assistant coach, Sarah Wright, and a teacher, Antoinette Wittrock, whose children have gone through his programs and two still in the midst of high school. $5,000 was donated to the school that will be used for athletics. Though not a huge fan of being the focal point of attention, Eidahl admitted the act touched him deeply.

            “Having those two people, my assistant coach and someone whose kids I have coached, that means a lot to me,” Eidahl said. “It’s an honor, having my peers nominate me. To have a teacher nominate me for this award means the world to me, because teaching is just as much a part of what I do.”

             Eidahl’s first trip to a state berth came in 1966 with his cross country team, and since that has included state appearance, All-State recognitions and championships across cross country, track, boys basketball, football and girls’ basketball.

            “I think he’s made the climate and culture at Pekin positive with many of the kids he’s had over the years,” Lori Eads, Pekin’s Athletic Director said. “From his sports to his classroom, these kids are taking away life skills, social skills, morals. He expects 110 percent in the classroom, as well as out on the field or the court.”

            Even outside of the school, Eidahl continues to host camps for young athletes and will pay for athletes to have proper gear for sports if they do not have the money.

            “He finds time for kids, doesn’t matter if they are at home or school,” Eads said. “He reaches above and beyond for them. They had team meals together, they support each other on the track. With his success, kids going into his programs want to see why, and they see it’s about hard work, dedication and that sticks with them after they leave Pekin.”

            After 55 years of coaching and 53 years at Pekin, hundreds of athletes with their names and faces honored in Pekin’s Hall of Fame feel they owe so much to their former coach, and no one might have been closer to Eidahl as Gwynne Wright, a high school All-State runner in both cross country and track. The 2016 Pekin graduate also is the daughter of Sarah Wright, who has coached by Eidahl’s side for 18 years and known him even longer.

“Davis has always been like a ‘grandpa’ to me,” Wright said.  “I grew up around cross country meets, so Davis has been a role model and coach to me my entire life. I remember how excited I was when I got to middle school because I was finally part of one of his teams. It's really something special to run under Davis and to be coached and led by him.”

Wright now runs cross country and track for Iowa State University, but attributes her jump to the collegiate level to being able to look up to Eidahl as far back as she can remember.

“The biggest thing though was that he truly, really believed in me and the team,” Wright said. “We could be ranked way low in the rankings and he always instilled in us that we were always competing for the championship. I think when you have somebody that puts that much time and belief in you as an athlete, you are willing to do whatever it takes to win for your coach and that's what it was like for all of the teams I was on that were coached under him.”

Please view the October 18 edition of The News-Review for the full story.