By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
The fact that Frances Davis is remembered as a pioneer for women sports is special to her, but it was never something she thought about at the time.
Davis, who taught at Windham from 1953 through her retirement in 1992, was at the forefront of girls athletics for the Bombers in the mid-1970’s following the implementation of Title IX.
All it took was a simple conversation that Davis sparked with then-Windham Superintendent Ken Jacobs.
“Well, I realized that we had a group of girls that were really interested in pursuing sports, so I wanted to be a voice to help make it happen,” said Davis, who is now 92 and lives in Braceville Township in Trumbull County.
The early years were far from easy, but Davis was unfazed amongst it all.
Her focus remained on the kids and creating opportunities.
The first opportunity came with the introduction of the track and field team.
They practiced on the street adjacent to the school that led back to the district’s bus garage.
They had just a few hurdles to work with.
In most cases, Davis said found herself wandering around the school looking for makeshift pieces that she could transform into training equipment.
Volleyball was the second sport added at Windham (with basketball and softball arriving later).
They had a net that required two people to physically hold it upright because the basketball court had not been equipped with sleeve floor anchors yet.
Oh, and they didn’t have uniforms either.
“I remember asking about uniforms, and I was shown where a box of old uniform gymsuits were,” Davis said. “I was told that we should wear those for our first year and then we will see.”
The gymsuits were not even the Bombers’ legendary black and gold school colors.
“They were yellow,” Davis said with a chuckle.
For Davis, she was familiar with compromise.
She grew up in a family of nine children in a house that was located on State Route 18 between Diamond and Palmyra townships.
Frances Sampson was child No. 6 in the family, following behind Freda, Irma, Helen, Tom and Bob — and ahead of Ruth, Donna Jean and David.
She attended Palmyra grade school and then Palmyra High School before earning her teaching degree from Youngstown State University. Her first teaching job was at Youngstown East, and she married Don Davis the following spring.
At the time, city schools abided by a rule that they would not employ married women teachers so Davis was hired at Southeast High School in just the school’s second year of existence (1951). She spent the 1951 and 1952 school years at Southeast before moving on to Windham, where she spent the remainder of her career, beginning as a teacher, then as a coach, then as the girls athletic director and finally the district’s athletic director.
“Windham was a special place to teach. We were like one big family,” Davis said. “It was a lovely place to go to work. The kids were special and if you told them to do something, they did it. I think there were a lot of teachers that felt the same way that I did. That Windham was where we wanted to be.
“Even after I retired. Every place I would go, I would see kids from Windham, and they would always greet me and have always been very nice to me,” Davis added.
After her retirement from education, Davis became the friendly face and personality that worked behind the counter at the Riverview Golf Course in Newton Falls. She worked there for 25 years, but did not return when the course reopened from its COVID-mandated shutdown.
She looks back on her years at Windham, which named its early season volleyball tournament in her name a decade ago, fondly and her memories of jumpstarting the Bombers’ girls athletics programs as a special time in her life.
“We had a boom in numbers right away. The girls were excited to do things and it was a fun time,” Davis said. “The community really got behind us to support. One of the things that made me realize that we were doing a good thing was when we took our first girl down to the state track and field meet, and she did quite well.”
Sabrina Ruff represented the Bombers at the OHSAA state championships in 1976, finishing sixth in the 100-yard dash in 11.6 seconds and sixth in the long jump at 16-7.5 feet.
“It was quite amazing,” Davis said.
Just like her career.
Frances was a wonderful example to us younger teachers and coaches. She always went above and beyond helping students. A true legend❤️
Frances is one of the best! Tough as nails, but a soft heart. Admired by many. ❤️
Mrs. Davis was my first basketball coach and did so much to build our program. I was thrilled when we finally got to have a team my sophomore year. Years later, I was inducted into Windham‘s Athletic Hall of Fame for basketball, and none of that would’ve happened without her. I will always remember her!
I’m so proud of my Aunt Frances. She is a wonderful role model.
Every female athlete and coach of girls sports owes a debt of gratitude to Frances Davis and the other pioneers. She is a hero to me and many thers!