Jim Davis—a fallen warrior, jovial, sensitive, admirable, dedicated—a real friend.
On July 8, 2014, AGLOA lost a Founder. Jim Davis of Allegheny Valley, Pennsylvania, lost a valiant struggle with brain cancer. His wife, Sandy, told Larry Liss, Dave Campbell and I (Stu White) via email that Jim was peacefully taken that morning. Jim and Sandy have two children and four grandchildren.
The word “Founder” needs some explanation. AGLOA is but 22 years old yet Jim Davis’ contributions and participation began decades before. Better descriptors for Jim might be “originator” or “sustainer.” Like most things in life, timing is of the essence. Jim was a dynamic math teacher in 1966 when Bob Allen, brother of Layman Allen, along with Larry Liss brought the concept of Academic Gaming to Pennsylvania and met Jim. Jim became the coordinator of the Allegheny Valley School District Academic Games program that fall—one of ten school districts in Western PA that formed the first ever Academic Games League in the country. It changed Jim’s life and it changed the lives of countless gamers in the keystone state.
Jim attended the Academic Games Nationals, then called the Olympics, in 1967 and for every year thereafter until his illness stopped his string of continuous tournaments in 2012. His Allegheny Valley teams were champions over and over. Jim invented the role of Head Scorekeeper for the tournament. When the tournament board deemed it important to recognize “outstanding sponsors,” Jim was the first recipient of such an award and indeed the award was subsequently named in his honor. Nothing made Jim prouder than being on the stage to present that Thinker to a deserving educator.
His acute sense of irony, his rapier wit, his ingenious humor, his abiding dedication to excellence in teaching made Jim a unique educator. He was warm and encouraging and accessible. Jim left the math classroom in Allegheny Valley to become the Gifted Program Director which gave him even more influence in promoting Academic Games.
When AGLOA split from the National Academic Games Project in the early 1990’s, Jim became a “Founder,” along with Brother Neal Golden, Larry Liss, and Stu White. Those were stressful days, and Jim’s courage was unmitigated.
Jim Davis was a dear friend. When I (Stu White) met him at Kent State in 1974, we recognized that we were singing from the same songbook. Our irreverent instinct for the “wacky” led us down many hilarious paths. No journey was too long if there was a laugh at the end. Props and costumes just served as vehicles for our hope to entertain. Nothing gave us more joy than to lighten the atmosphere during heavy competition at Rock Eagle or Gatlinburg or Tuscaloosa. Our scoring room, “The Throne Zone”, became our opportunity to watch serious educators humble themselves before us. Nothing was sacred, and you only saw those people once a year.
Please know that Jim Davis was the shining example of an Academic Games coach—academically demanding, yet fully aware that our competition led to integrity and character building. Jim knew that gaming was an alluring entrance to the full blossom and wonder of mathematics. What a guy…
Three of his many dear friends and colleagues,
-Stuart White, David Campbell, and Larry Liss