Why, at age 77, is Davis Eidahl ’63 still at it? He’s bouncing on a seat as comfortable as an ironing board on a wind-chilled Pekin High School bus, chugging down an icy county road as his girls basketball team rumbles toward a neighboring speck of a southeast Iowa town. Eidahl’s still churning out winners as one of the state’s most successful girls and boys cross country coaches—along with coaching equally dominant boys and girls track and field teams. And teaching biology, physiology forensic science—even Latin, inspired by his long-ago Central Latin professor Herbert Mentink. Not to mention giving daily summer swimming lessons. Why, indeed?
“What else would I do?” says Eidahl, almost startled by the question. “I love it. I like being around the kids, getting up every morning and doing what I’ve done for 57 years.”
After graduating from Central where he served as captain in basketball, cross country and track, he taught at Anita High School for a year, then took a job at Pekin intending to stick around a couple more. He’s stayed for 56. His wife, Sandy Eidahl ’65, is in her 35th year there as a teacher associate and secretary.
Eidahl’s energy level and his teams’ performances remain high. Yet among all the championships and accolades, “I like to be known as a teacher first and a coach second,” Eidahl says. “I enjoy the classroom. Coaching is just extra.”
He cherishes spending time with students who increasingly come from homes where attention is lacking.
“Always greet them at the door, always call them by their first name, shake hands,” he says. “Never have a kid go by that you don’t speak to. If they respect you, they’re going to act pretty good.”
Same goes for coaching, he says.
“They’re going to work extra hard for you if they can see that you care,” he says. “Kids are pretty smart, they pick up on who cares for them and who doesn’t. They’ll go that extra mile for you if they see that.”
Pekin grad Maci Gambell ’22 saw it. Now on the Central women’s basketball team, she played for Eidahl and took his biology class. His care was evident when he took the team out to dinner, in the candy he offered as prizes in weekly free throw contests, in the t-shirts he often created and bought for the team and the pies he gave each player at Thanksgiving.
Most importantly, “He was always there to talk to you or help you if you needed anything,” Gambell says. “He was someone kids knew you could go to.
“He’s always there super early. We’d come in early and shoot hoops with him. And he was always one of the last ones to leave school, so kids saw him around and knew he was very open to talking.”
Eidahl puts his Gen Z athletes through many of the same workouts he learned at Central in the early 1960s. But old school doesn’t mean orthodox. A training run might mean a round on a golf course, minus the clubs, with tee-to-green sprints or loping along a desolate farm road to a neighboring town where the runners find a waiting bus to return to school.
“How do you make them work hard?” Eidahl asks. “You have fun. You go different places, you do different things they aren’t used to doing. They enjoy that, they look forward to it. They wonder, ‘What are we going to do tonight?’”
Likewise, in class, when he senses the students’ interest lagging he’ll subtly steer the class discussion off topic.
“I know what their interests are,” he says. “We get off the subject a little bit and talk about some things they like.”
His class trivia contests are popular, especially those that include tales of the sometimes-wayward exploits of the students’ parents and grandparents he once taught in the same classroom.
Eidahl, a competitive race walker who’s logged more than 300 race wins and was a 1972 U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier, is still surging ahead, with no sense of a finish line and no interest in a different path.
“Work hard regardless of what you do, have fun and never look back,” he says. “I’ve used that in the classroom and in coaching and it’s worked well for me.”
EIDAHL BY THE NUMBERS
- 12 time Central College letter-winner (4-year letter winner in basketball, cross country and track)
- 300 first-place competitive race walking finishes
- 77 years old
- 57 years teaching and coaching
- 39 conference boys track titles
- 35 conference girls cross country titles
- 33 conference boys cross country titles
- 25 boys track district crowns
- 17 cross country district crowns
- 4 boys state cross country titles
- 4 girls state cross country titles
- 3 coaching awards:
- First ever winner of the Girls’ Athletic Union Golden Plaque of Distinction
- 2017 finalist, U.S. Cellular Most Valuable Coach for impact on community and school
- 2001 inductee, Iowa Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches Hall of Fame
- 2 boys track state titles