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VOL. 127 | NO. 101 | Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Bell Lap

Wottle retiring from Rhodes as 40th anniversary of gold medal race nears

By Bill Dries

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When he applied to work at Rhodes College in the early 1980s, Dave Wottle left something off his resume.

Dave Wottle wears the gold medal he won in the 800 meters at the 1972 summer Olympic games while talking to students at Rhodes College. Wottle is retiring from the college after nearly 30 years there.

(Photo: Justin Fox Burks)

He did not mention that he won a gold medal in the 800-meter race at the 1972 summer Olympic games in Munich.

Nearly 30 years later, Wottle said it helped demonstrate to then-Rhodes president Jim Daughdrill that he wanted to get the job of dean of admissions on his own terms.

“I believed that I should get the position because of my experience in admissions, not because I was an athlete,” Wottle said this month as he prepares to retire from the positions he’s held at Rhodes since 1983 as special assistant to the president and dean of admissions and financial aid emeritus.

Wottle is proud of his place in Olympic history. And even if he didn’t list it on his resume, the image of Wottle in a golf cap running for the gold in the historic Olympic games that was marred by a terrorist attack is enduring.

“They meant everything to me. They changed my life. I tell people that there’s hardly a day that goes by where at some point during the day I don’t think back to that Olympic moment,” he said. “I look at my life now. It just would have been totally different. It opened doors for me that would not have been opened.”

Wottle got into “enrollment management,” as the field is called, after doing admissions work post-Olympics part time at Walsh University in Ohio and Bethany College in West Virginia, where he also coached track and cross country.

Wottle tried professional track with the college positions in the off season before going into academia when he applied for the position at what was Southwestern at Memphis for another year before the name change to Rhodes College.

“It was kind of a ‘Y’ in the road where I had to decide to pursue coaching – the athletic route – or administration and admissions,” Wottle said. “When I got there we had 55 or 56 percent of our students from in-state. We’re now about 24 or 25 percent – still a healthy percentage from the state. But we’ve really expanded our out-of-state markets during those 30 years which has been satisfying.”

Dave Wottle is retiring from Rhodes College, where he served as special assistant to the president and dean of admissions and financial aid emeritus.

(Photo: Justin Fox Burks)

The goals behind recruitment and enrollment of students have changed during Wottle’s tenure. But so have the students and their parents, and the process of choosing a college.

“It just wasn’t as involved a process. … Now with the Internet and colleges becoming much more aggressive in their recruiting efforts, using their alums, traveling coast to coast, they are showing students that they have a lot more options to choose from,” Wottle said. “It’s become a lot easier to apply to colleges. They are putting in more applications.”

Wottle sees a lot more thought in the process and also a lot more stress for parents and prospective students. Some of the stress includes student loan debt, which Wottle said he and Rhodes counselors try to account for as they talk to students considering Rhodes.

“You’ll be recruiting students and you’ll see that they have to take out substantial loans and come out with $40,000 to $50,000 in debt. We’re counseling them to look at other options,” he said. “At least at Rhodes, our approach has been we don’t want to saddle a student with that much debt. Our debt’s right around $24,000 to $25,000 when the students leave, which is substantial in and of itself.”

Wottle will still be under contract at Rhodes until September. But he’ll leave in June to take some time off and figure out what he wants to do next. He’s thinking about something part time in enrollment management.

A trip to the London Summer Olympics, which start in July, is not in the cards, although he’s been to the games in Los Angeles, Montreal and Atlanta and enjoyed the experiences.

“I think you can see more just staying home watching on TV,” he said.

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