Drex Davis Sr. was a brand name in Frankfort and statewide politics and became a seasoned hand at musical chairs as he bounced from state treasurer to secretary of state during his 40-year career in public office.
But it was his lesser-known involvement in community organizations that stuck with his son, who dabbled in politics while balancing a career in state government and starting a coaching career that has reached the hardwood, links and baseball diamond.
Drex Davis Jr., who retired as girls’ golf coach at Franklin County High School after 11 seasons and a surprise regional championship last year, wouldn’t have it any other way.
Drex, 60, has no children of his own, but finding kids to take under his wing has been easy over a coaching career that began with Bondurant Middle School’s intramural basketball program in 1991.
Before that, though, he joined Big Brothers Big Sisters in 1985 and saw the impact of volunteering and helping local youth.
“My dad was always active in Jaycees and Lions (Club), but I wanted to take a different route, so I got involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters in 1985 and met a young man here in Frankfort named Andrew Hedges,” Drex said.
Andrew and Drex still keep in touch and see each other during Christmas. Andrew graduated from Vanderbilt with a double major in computer science and electrical engineering and owns his own software company in the Washington, D.C., area.
“That’s a great story, and I was just on the fringe of that,” Drex said. “…It’s been a lifelong relationship that I established by volunteering.”
Politics didn’t fly
Some may be surprised that Drex didn’t follow his father’s political footsteps, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Drex ran for state auditor in 1987, treasurer in 1991 and Franklin County property valuation administrator in 1993.
“I was named Drex Davis Jr., and he had a very successful name across the state,” Drex said. “He had that built-in name recognition, and I tried to play on that.”
With each race, he was forced to resign from his current job at the state. He worked in the Department for Local Government, Transportation Cabinet and was the state’s first director of postal services after they consolidated mailing operations.
Drex came close to victory twice, losing by 4,500 votes statewide in 1991 and a scant 250 votes countywide in 1993. But he soon accepted that he wouldn’t have a career in politics.
“Then I saw the writing on the wall and said, ‘I’m not doing this anymore,’” he said. “It’s heartbreaking to lose those things, it really is.”
His father helped him on the campaign trail, shaking hands with folks at restaurants or working a line at the annual Derby breakfast. Drex describes his dad as a genuine grassroots politician.
“Every time we went to eat I couldn’t sit down,” he recalled. “I had to shake everyone’s hand in the restaurant.”
That approach, however, couldn’t best the onslaught of television advertising and an overall lack of fundraising, he said.
“We came close,” Drex said. “We had a lot of good times campaigning together. I wouldn’t trade those experiences either, even though we lost.
“Dad and I on the campaign trail together was one of my most memorable experiences.”
A born coach
Drex followed a different path, even during his campaign years. In 1991, his friend Artie Van Houten asked him to help coach his son’s intramural basketball team at Bondurant Middle School.
Though he’s probably best known for coaching girls’ golf at FCHS, Drex says basketball is his favorite sport to coach.
“It’s such a fast-paced game, and as a coach you’re really involved in the game – changing offenses and defenses and substitutions and so forth,” he said.
“That’s a lot more exciting than a seven-hour round of girl’s golf sometimes.”
Drex, a 1970 graduate of FCHS, averaged about 13 points per game as a senior for the Flyers. He says basketball is his first love, but he was only offered a half-scholarship to play golf at Morehead State University and accepted.
“So I decided to be a college golfer, but I did love basketball,” he said. “Those are my two sports, and baseball is probably my weakness.”
Drex enjoys watching kids play unselfish basketball and seeing them develop as players over the course of a season.
At Bondurant, he was able to keep tabs on seventh and eighth graders as they played basketball at Western Hills High School. There were always players who didn’t make the middle school team who developed into quality players at the high school level, he said.
“A lot of these kids that played intramural ball wound up playing for the high school team,” he said. “Some developed late, some were just missed by the coach’s evaluation.”
During that time, he was also an assistant coach for the WHHS girls’ golf team. The coach at the time, Dale Rogers, approached him on a putting green at the Frankfort Country Club’s golf course in 1996 and told him he had a good crop of girls coming into the Wolverines’ program.
Golf programs didn’t generally have assistants, but Drex agreed to help in any way he could.
“They all had their swing coaches and that, so I kind of thought I’d concentrate on the short game – the chip, the pitch, the lob shots, some of the shots around the green,” he said. “Some things the pros don’t cover.
“These were a really good bunch of girls, and they were really willing to learn.”
One of the girls, Mandy Goins Moore, would later play at Wake Forest University under Frankfort native and golf legend Dianne Dailey. She earned honorable mention All-American in 2006 and 2007 and All-ACC in 2006.
Drex was thinking of leaving the WHHS program when the girls’ golf coach job opened at FCHS in 2001.
He is only the third coach in the program’s history, following Joan Johnston, a hall of famer who started the team in 1967 and retired in 1998.
“Taking over Joan’s program was a lot of pressure,” Drex said. “She was the golf coach at Franklin County, and it was like her program had been entrusted to me. I didn’t want to mess it up.”
He didn’t. The FCHS girls’ golf team never finished worse than third in the region under Drex, winning three titles during his 11 years there. The team sent at least one golfer to the state tournament 10 times.
Drex calls his success at FCHS “unbelievable.” He coordinated with swing coaches, all PGA professionals, to keep his training consistent with what his golfers learned from the pros.
He managed a 23-team high school region that included FCHS from 2003 to 2010 and held a seat on the Kentucky High School Athletic Association’s Golf Advisory Board since 2007.
Time to retire
Retiring was a heavy decision, but Drex says he couldn’t have picked a better scenario. He graduated three seniors – one, Abbi Stamper, earned a golf scholarship at Murray State University and another, Erin Marshall, will try to walk on at Wake Forest next season – and unexpectedly won the region tournament.
He filed his resignation letter earlier this month.
“I couldn’t have picked a better moment to retire, going out as the regional champions and graduating three seniors,” he said.
Drex later added, “I’m going to miss coaching girls’ golf, and I still plan to be a big fan and booster of the program and hopefully help out if the new coach needs me anytime.
“I hope to do what it takes to keep my level two high school coaching certification in case they need me for something. I’m there to help.”
But he has two new projects to keep him busy in his down time.
He retired from the state in 2005 to care for his ailing father, who died in 2009. Drex Davis Sr. was elected deputy clerk with the Court of Appeals in 1948 and clerk of the court in 1964 and served two terms as treasurer – 1972-1976 and 1980-1984 – and as secretary of state – 1976-1980 and 1984-1988.
Drex Davis Jr. recently renewed his realtor’s license, and he’s reinventing himself with the Pulliam Realty Group.
He has also taken another youngster under his wing. For the past two years, Drex has coached 10-year-old Cameron Phelps in the Y’s youth basketball program as well as minor league baseball for the Peach Lumber team.
Cameron is the grandson of Drex’s friend Kathy Phelps and a promising athlete, Drex said. After his success with Andrew decades ago in Big Brothers Big Sisters, Drex hopes to have the same relationship with Cameron.
Last season, Drex’s team won the Y league’s season-ending tournament. Cameron has grown as a basketball player in his time with Drex, who says the 10-year-old will be fun to watch as he grows.
“I think he’s really developing in basketball,” he said. “He’s growing a little bit, he has good ball-handling skills, and I think he can keep improving.
“… I’m going to let him pull me through coaching these next few years. He’s a great young man, and I really enjoy his company.”
While he can handle minor league baseball and plans to coach Cameron’s basketball team next year, Drex doesn’t see himself coaching little league next season.
“Like I said, baseball is not one of my best two sports, so I think I’m just going to be a supporter of Cameron next year and let someone else do the coaching in baseball,” Drex said.
“I loved baseball, and my dad coached me in recreation baseball from peewee league through Babe Ruth league, so that’s eight years that he was a volunteer baseball coach. I know what he went through now.”
After coaching and teaching the fundamentals of basketball, golf and baseball for years, Drex still likes watching kids simply enjoy the game.
“I guess just satisfaction of watching them improve and grow and have fun and learn a little bit about the sport we’re teaching and hopefully make a new friend along the way too,” he said.
“…I’m not a miracle worker, but I do like to watch their gradual improvement.”