BENTONVILLE COACHES LINDSEY DAVIS AND KENT EARLY TOGETHER REPRESENT TWO DECADES OF EXCELLENCE IN COACHING AND MENTORING IN MULTIPLE SPORTS.
BY BRADLEY LINAM | PHOTOS BY MARK STRICKLAND PHOTOS
For the Bentonville High School athletic department success is customary. While it is not easy, their success is due to hard work, determination, committed athletes and parents – and some superior coaching. Bentonville has seen success in almost every sport in the last couple of decades. They have achieved multiple state championships in football, golf, cross-country, baseball, softball, tennis and many other sports. Since 2000 the program has achieved 130 state championships and Max Preps named the Bentonville program #1 Overall in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years. The recipe for success has been enriched by a group of successful coaches that have positively mentored and motivated student athletes to achieve greatness. The culture of winning is prevalent in this athletic department and continues to this day.
In these times we see coaches jump from school to school – chasing the next best chance they have at winning a title or finding the best opportunity for them and their families. Although it’s usually at the collegiate ranks, high school sports have their share of coaches job-hopping as well. It is very rare to see a high school coach at one school and leading one sport for multiple decades.
That is not the case for coaches Lindsey Davis and Kent Early. These two Bentonville coaches have achieved success – in tandem – for the last 20 years. Their share of the previously mentioned state titles is impressive – five state championships in golf and four in softball (with four runners-up in softball). Together, they account for a sizeable share of district and state titles for the athletic department. We don’t know of another pair of coaches at any high school in Arkansas that can boast of that kind of success, but we also don’t know of very many coaches that have coached together for that amount of time. Early and Davis attribute their success to their ability to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Their humble approach to coaching allows them to not get their feelings hurt when it comes to decision making and implementation of said decisions. They rely, heavily, on each other to play their respective roles to make sure their student athletes have a great experience and participate in a learning environment. “Coach Early and Coach Davis have created a culture of winning in the golf and softball programs. They are great “teammates” that understand their roles in the development of the players and the commitment of time and energy,” according to Bentonville Athletic Director Chris Hutchens.
Davis attributes her love of sports to her parents who were both athletes and her dad was a coach. Her dad was a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox for a short stint. He was also a diver and taught her how to dive and instilled that love early on. A Little Rock Hall graduate, Davis went to school with and continues to be friends with Razorback basketball legend, Sidney Moncrief. In high school, she was a cheerleader and diver and spent time at Rebsamen Park in Little Rock playing various sports as there were no girls’ sports at the time at Little Rock Hall. It was her time diving at the UALR pool that she caught the eye of coach Mike Bailey who knew of her desire to attend and dive at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Bailey reached out to (then coach) Ed Fedosky who was the swimming coach at the University of Arkansas. Davis would become the first women’s scholarship athlete at the university. Davis quickly solidified her diving expertise and she swiftly became one of the best divers in the country at the time. This success led to an eventual spot on the 1980 U.S. Olympic diving team. Unfortunately, those Olympic Games were boycotted by the U.S. and Davis was not able to live out her Olympic dream.
Early, took a different but similar path. Born in Fayetteville but raised in Monticello, Arkansas, Early also has a coaching pedigree. His father, Alvy Early was hired as the women’s head basketball coach at the University of Arkansas at Monticello (UAM) in 1979 when the younger Early was just four years old. The elder Early eventually became a two-sport coach and the Athletic Director at UAM. Early attributes his dad’s success at coaching and administration as a reason that he got into the profession. Early’s siblings have become successful coaches as well. His oldest brother, Preston, is a basketball coach at Rogers High School and his brother Brian is currently the Defensive Line coach at the University of Houston.
Early’s start in coaching was to assist his father in his coaching duties. “Dad didn’t have an assistant coach until 2016. He went all those years with just Graduate Assistants. Once UAM made the jump from the NAIA to the NCAA dad needed some help. That is when I got my start,” Early said. After that first fast-pitch softball game in 1997, Early was hooked on coaching softball.
Davis and Early have a strong relationship on the field as coaches. They work well together as their track record proves. At the most recent national signing day they watched as four senior softball players signed to play at the collegiate level. Developing players at the prep level to become successful is a clear indication of just how well they do their jobs but getting them a chance to play at the collegiate level is the ultimate measure of accomplishment for a high school coach.