La Jolla High softball coach watches his career run full circle

For Ken Davis, returning to the diamond means his coaching career has come full circle.

Davis’ has worked with high school athletes in a wide variety of sports, from baseball to football to track and wrestling. And now, more than 20 years after getting his start in coaching with softball, he’s back on the diamond coaching La Jolla High School’s softball program.

Davis, 48, was recently hired as the Vikings’ varsity softball coach, and his enthusiasm for the position seems boundless.

“I’m really enjoying it,” Davis said. “I’ve told (assistant coach) Mike (Francis), (athletic director) Bob Allen and the administrators at our school that I’m out here to have fun but to also move the softball program along. We want to focus it more toward the girls and trying to move as many as possible on to the next level. I enjoy the challenges of making the changes to the program.

“I’d like to make it one of the better programs we have at the high school,” Davis said. “That’s tough. That’s a big goal.”

Davis takes over for Summer Ehrsam, who coached the Vikings to a 10-13 record in 2006, and he has high hopes for a program that hasn’t exactly excelled in recent years.

An auto shop teacher, Davis has been at La Jolla for 18 years, and has coached the junior varsity football team since he set foot on the campus. Most recently, Davis also coached the junior varsity baseball team with Francis. He said he had told Allen that he would welcome an opportunity to coach softball should an opening come about, and when Ehrsam moved on last winter, he jumped at the chance.

“I told him that if a vacancy came up that Mike and I work well together and we’d be interested in taking on the softball program,” Davis said. “The opening came up, and in we went. It was a good transition.”

So far, Davis is off to a good start. Through the first three weeks of the 2007 season, Davis had guided the Vikings to a 4-3 record. La Jolla is scheduled to play in the Longhorn Tournament at Rancho Buena Vista High School and play a handful of nonleague games before opening Western League play against Point Loma on April 12.

He has been pleased with the effort and approach of his players as well. With a roster that features just one senior - catcher Becky Foster - the Vikings are short on leadership and experience, but have made up for those deficiencies with teamwork and impassioned play.

“We’re looking forward to having a lot of success,” Davis said. “We’re working right now on the team concept and developing chemistry. That’s one of those things that is very important to a team if it wants to do some things late in the season and move on. I think Mike and I are working in that direction, to make sure these girls play as a team.”

Davis will face many challenges as he negotiates his way through his first season, but one he has already dealt with is the new experience of coaching girls sports. He worked briefly with the softball team at Crawford High School back in the 1980s, but since then has coached exclusively boys sports.

While there are many similarities, there are also some stark differences, and Davis said it’s all about the approach.

“It’s a little bit different - we take a different approach than we would with football players,” Davis said. “I was told by some knowledgeable softball coaches that when you work with boys, if they play good, then they feel good. But with girls, they have to feel good in order to play good. I think those are good words of wisdom for any coach. If you take coaching from that perspective when you’re working with girls, I think it makes things easier for everybody.”

Davis said he and Francis help instill confidence in their softball players by taking a low-key approach and reinforcing positives rather than dwelling on negatives.

“With boys in football, you can kind of get on them when they make a mistake and they will do better for you; with the girls, we never get on them,” Davis said. “We just say, ‘Hey, good try. Next time, do this or do that.’ It works at all levels and all ages with the girls, we’ve found.”

Davis knows he has an opportunity to develop something special, and he’s committed to making the Vikings’ softball team one of the elite programs at a school that has experienced success in many different sports over the years.

“I foresee myself doing this until I retire in six or seven years,” he said. “I want to build the program up so that the next person who comes in to coach the team has something to cherish. To be considered one of the better programs at La Jolla High School, you’d know you’re doing something right.”