Ralph Davis learned how to play basketball from his older brother when he was in grade school. Soon Ralph was showing his brother and many others his moves on the playground courts of Milwaukee.
By the late 1970s, Davis became part of the powerhouse Purgolder teams at Washington High School.
“They were running folks off the court,” said Henry Davis, one of Ralph’s brothers.
In 1994, Ralph Davis joined the boy’s basketball coaching staff at Washington. He said it would be for a year. He never left.
Davis was on the staff that coached the Purgolders to state runner-up finishes in 1997 and 2000. He later coached the girl’s basketball team and was the school’s track coach last season when Elijah Johnson won state titles in the 100 and 200 meters.
Davis also worked as a teacher’s aide at Washington for 25 years.
“He really connected with the people in many different ways,” Washington Athletic Director Marlon Boyd said. “He was a down-to-earth guy, a comedian, always telling jokes, telling stories and cheating the basketball players when they played horse.”
Outside Washington High School, a makeshift memorial went up after he died. It says, “RIP Coach Davis,” spelled in cups jammed in the fence. Former players and students stopped by to leave a memory.
As news of his death spread, people flooded his Facebook pages with stories about the impact he made on their lives.
“I think it’s crazy how one person can leave such an impact on sooooo many kids,” one former student wrote. “If tough love was a person, it was Ralph Davis.”
Davis, 60, who had diabetes, went to get a COVID-19 test on March 20. He was told to expect a call in 24 hours. He was found dead in bed early March 25. The test result came later that same day, according to the medical examiner’s report.
Family members said they were trying not to ask “what if,” but remembering the man whom many simply knew as “Coach.”
“My brother was one of the nicest, most gentle guys,” one of his brothers said. “He would bend over backward for anybody, and he did.”