Young athlete pays tribute to a legend - Catholic Courier

Young athlete pays tribute to a legend

It’s been more than 50 years since Ernie Davis performed the football heroics that made him Elmira’s best-known sports hero of all time. Thanks to modern technology, a young local athlete is doing his part to preserve Davis’ legacy for current and future generations.

Visit to find the tribute website on Davis that was designed and is maintained by Kevin Minchin, a recent graduate of Elmira Notre Dame High School and one of the Crusaders’ top athletes.

Minchin, 18, said his interest in Davis deepened after he was nominated for the Ernie Davis Scholarship during his senior year of 2009-10. As part of the nomination process he was required to do some sort of project related to Davis, so he began collecting information by hitting the library, surfing the Internet and conducting interviews with people who knew Davis personally.

"I kind of got into it a little bit," said Minchin, who added that he also was inspired by the 2008 movie "The Express: The Ernie Davis Story" that rekindled national interest in the man known as The Elmira Express.

Minchin taught himself Web design and came up with a site that features such highlights as a 15-question trivia quiz about Davis, and biographical sketches of Jim Brown and Floyd Little — who, like Davis, were among the greatest running backs to ever play for Syracuse University.

Davis played on Syracuse’s national championship team in 1959. Two years later he became the first black athlete to win the Heisman Trophy, awarded to the nation’s top college football player. He joined the National Football League’s Cleveland Browns for his rookie season but before he could play in a game, Davis was diagnosed with leukemia. He died in 1963 at age 23 and is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira. The building he attended for high school, the former Elmira Free Academy, is now known as Ernie Davis Middle School and adorned by a statue of Davis in front.

Minchin, meanwhile, competed in varsity football, basketball and baseball at Notre Dame — the same three sports that Davis played for EFA in the 1950s. However, it’s Davis’ inner qualities that inspire Minchin the most. Davis, who was born in Pennsylvania and moved to Elmira to live with his grandparents as a child, overcame a life of poverty and racism while conducting himself with class both on the field and off.

"The turmoil he went through throughout his whole career — probably the most difficult thing for him to overcome was the racism. He was kind of like a role model to the African-Americans in Elmira," Minchin said, adding that attitudes about segregation "changed big because of people like that."

Minchin’s dedication to telling Davis’ story resulted in his winning the Ernie Davis Scholarship, which is worth $12,000. He also can hold his head high based on the thousands of visits that have been made to his website, which he has promoted by speaking at an elementary school; appearing on the radio and in local newspapers; and writing a special notice for his bulletin at Christ the Redeemer Parish, where he is an altar server and works part time on buildings and grounds.

Minchin graduated from Elmira Notre Dame on June 18. This past spring he was recipient of a 2009-10 diocesan Hands of Christ Award, given to high-school seniors who have excelled in their parish, school and community. In the fall he’ll begin his freshman year at SUNY Geneseo, where he plans to play basketball and study biology and physical therapy.

"I can’t wait," he said.

If there’s one lesson that has stuck with Minchin from his extensive research on Davis, it’s to excel to the best of your abilities and not take anything in life for granted.

"That’s what I take away from it. I try to do the best I can with sports, try to do better than the previous season. When you get a chance, you’ve got to try to take advantage of every opportunity in life," Minchin said, adding that "every time things are tough for me, I think of what (Davis) went through."

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