Matt Davis '13

Hometown: Maryville, TN
Major: Physical Education and Health with Teacher Licensure K-12
Senior Study Title: “Will Having a Quality Health/Wellness Philosophy Lead to Higher Achievement in the Classrooms and Develop a Successful Athletic Program?”
Advisor: Dr. Danny Pierce

Thesis Abstract

As the grandson of beloved and respected Maryville College physical education and health teacher, football coach and wrestling coach John A. “J.D.” Davis ’30, Matt Davis has always known that he wanted to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.

When it came time to write his Senior Study, it’s no surprise that Davis decided to pursue a topic that combined his major – physical education and health with teacher licensure K-12 – with his love of coaching.

“I want to live and follow [my grandfather’s] values as well,” said Davis, who has coached football as an assistant at a local high school and middle school. “He did not believe that athletes should be given a free pass in academics, nor as a coach did he feel he should not teach other students to the best of his ability; instead, he felt that using his ability to coach and teach together would allow him to teach a greater number of students, as well as help them reach their potential.”

For his Senior Study, Davis wanted to find out whether having a quality health and wellness philosophy can influence students to reach a higher academic achievement standard. He also wanted to determine how these philosophies can be used to help build a strong athletic program.

“I want to use my knowledge of movement, physical education and health to help teach students the benefits of physical activity, which include a healthier lifestyle and higher learning,” Davis said. “Hopefully, using this knowledge will allow me to become a great teacher and role model to both my students and players, like my grandfather was to his.”

Davis studied four local high schools: William Blount High School, Heritage High School, Alcoa High School and Maryville High School. First, he studied ACT scores, class sizes, student-to-teacher ratios and percentages of students who are on free and reduced lunch plans.

Next, he conducted extensive interviews with school health coordinators and football coaches from each school to determine whether each school’s health and wellness philosophy influences academic achievement in the classroom – and whether those factors affect the quality of each school’s football program.

With the school health coordinators, Davis asked about physical education programs, Coordinated School Health Programs (CSH), body mass index screening results, wellness plans and activities, health screening results and nutrition programs.

In interviewing football coaches, Davis studied the teams’ records and asked questions about the conditioning drills and lifting techniques used to develop the body and the types of values coaches wish to instill in their student-athletes to allow them to live successful lives.

“Overall, I found that having a proper physical education program does in fact raise test scores and improve academic learning,” Davis said. He also learned about different methods and beliefs used to both build and maintain a solid athletic program foundation.

To support his findings, Davis points to John J. Ratey’s book Spark, which “shows that physical activity can actually grow new neurotransmitters, which are one of the key components to learning.”

“This happens thanks to a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF,” Davis explained. “John Ratey states that early on, researchers discovered that sprinkling BDNF on neurons would sprout new branches that had the same structural look as branches involved in our ability to learn. Physical activity allows BDNF and other proteins such as serotonin to be released into our brain.”

Dr. Danny Pierce, associate professor of physical education, health and recreation – and Davis’ Senior Study advisor, said he was impressed with Davis’ study, particularly with the amount of field data and interviews he collected.

“The study covers the historical roots of the four local high schools, as well as provides a snapshot in time of where those schools are now in terms of academics, school health/wellness and football,” Pierce said. “I think his work could be of value for anyone else down the line who was interested in this topic.”

Pierce also said that Davis grew as a result of taking on this topic.

“All Senior Study students develop their ability to locate quality information, synthesize the relevant parts, extract and present what they find,” he said. “The
students’ technical writing improves as they grow more confident in their abilities. Matt also learned a lot about networking in the community and the time and energy it takes to conduct interviews. All of these qualities should serve him well upon graduation.”

Davis, who is completing his student teaching this semester, has several career goals in mind. He would like to work as a physical education and health instructor and serve as an assistant football coach, and eventually, he would like to go back to school to earn a master’s degree and Ph.D. in a health education field so he can become the head of a college or university physical education and health department.

“Either way, I want to make a difference in the lives of students,” he said. “I plan to use this [Senior Study] to help start up my own program that incorporates the information learned to help improve schools' test scores and academics overall.”