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Hillsborough superintendent hopeful would like to forget this one softball game

You can’t please everybody, the Clay County schools leader learned after a parent accused him of harassment.
Addison Davis, the elected superintendent of Clay County District Schools in Florida, is one of seven semifinalists to be Hillsborough County's next superintendent.
Addison Davis, the elected superintendent of Clay County District Schools in Florida, is one of seven semifinalists to be Hillsborough County's next superintendent. [ Clay County District Schools ]
Published Jan. 14, 2020

There is a story Addison Davis would like to forget. It’s about softball. It doesn’t bear directly on his career as an educator.

But it followed him to Tampa, where he is applying to be superintendent of Hillsborough County Public Schools. News clips are being circulated by people who wish to discredit him.

It’s like the bungled television interview, about a substitute teacher who got in trouble at Shields Middle School, that follows Hillsborough Chief of Schools Harrison Peters everywhere as he applies for superintendent jobs. Or the way James McIntyre, another candidate for superintendent, clashed with his last School Board in Tennessee.

RELATED: Race, politics cloud Hillsborough’s search for a new superintendent

What exactly happened to Davis in the summer of 2018? A Clay County Sheriff’s report details most of the story:

Leigh Ann Lunsford, a parent who clashed with Davis in the past, learned that a softball team Davis coached had to surrender a tournament title in Georgia.

The Jacksonville Storm had made it all the way to the championship, and won the final game. It turned out two players were too old to play. The Storm said its coaches thought eligibility was based on the graduation year, not the players’ date of birth.

Lunsford posted news of the disqualified game on her personal Facebook page. She asked questions about Davis’ role. “If he will cheat at softball, how do we know that Clay is an 'A' district?” she said at the time, repeating the question in an interview recently.

Davis telephoned Lunsford. He said he tried to explain what had happened at the game. “People tell me I’m an over-communicator,” he told the Tampa Bay Times. “I try to do everything I can to connect with our constituents.”

But Lunsford said Davis was trying to silence her. He offered to do whatever he could if her son — then in high school — needed help. She took the mention of her son as intimidation. She said Davis had mentioned her son in a prior disagreement.

As she was also getting hostile Facebook posts, Lunsford called the Sheriff’s Office. She accused Davis of harassment.

The story was covered in Folio Weekly, an alternative publication. The paper used the word “investigation.” Clay Sheriff Darryl Daniels put out a statement denying the existence of any criminal investigation of Davis. Folio Weekly amended its article and headline, using the word “inquiry” instead.

Things got hairier when a School Board member told Lunsford about a conversation that took place during an agenda review meeting. According to the board member, when asked about the Folio article, Davis said the sheriff took care of the situation for him.

Davis said, “that never happened.”

But the sheriff’s report shows he confirmed one part of her story: Davis suggested they all should “stick together” and remain “unified" for the sake of children in Clay.

RELATED: A closer look at the semifinalists to become Hillsborough school superintendent

Davis has spent most of his life in Duval County. There, he moved up through the school district in a career that includes managing 38 at-risk schools as a regional “turnaround” superintendent.

Lunsford is a romance novelist in the small town of Fleming Island. Her Facebook page shows passionate posts about the school system, its problems with security and the politics that surround it. Unlike Hillsborough, Clay elects its superintendents. The politics are bare-knuckles.

The Sheriff’s Office found no criminal wrongdoing in Davis’ treatment of Lunsford. Her son finished high school and she no longer has a direct stake in school district business.

Davis, once president of the softball organization, said he now has more of an advisory role. His daughter, who played for the Storm, is a pitcher at the University of Central Florida.

“I will never apologize for contacting Ms. Lunsford,” Davis said. “She deserves, as a constituent, to understand the actual big picture of what we are doing for kids.” While the controversy that followed was unpleasant, he said, “I grew from it. I grew to understand that no matter what you do, you will not make everybody happy.”

He said that despite being disqualified from the softball game, “in that event, we got six kids college scholarships. That’s the outcome. That’s the goal.”

Davis, along with other candidates for Hillsborough superintendent, will be in Tampa this week for interviews with the School Board. The board on Thursday plans to pick two or three finalists from a list of seven semifinalists.