The Stuff of Legends

By Lorrie Kyle Ramey ’70

Gordie Howell
An Olympic Perspective

Gordie Howell

As Gordie Howell ’64MAT tells the story, he first came to Rollins as a student, pursuing a master’s degree in economics. In 1967, he returned as a physical education instructor and was persuaded by Rollins president Hugh McKean ’30 ’72H to undertake the position of soccer coach. Howell, who was ultimately appointed to the Raymond W. Greene Chair of Health and Physical Education, recalls he was thrilled by the $1000 increase to his salary until President McKean added, “Gordie, by the way, for every season you have a losing season, we’re going to deduct $100.”

Listen to Gordie Howell's recollections of Rollins.
Listen to Gordie Howell's recollections of Rollins.

Though his knowledge of soccer was limited to having watched a few games, Howell caught on fast. During his 14 years leading the Tar boosters, the men logged a 157-62-17 record, nine trips to NCAA tournaments, two All-Americans, and five draftees to professional teams. He also wrote the initial soccer handbook for the Sunshine State Conference. A former Marine captain who commanded Force Reconnaissance teams, Howell introduced his student-athletes to his disciplined style of leadership: high standards, hard work, and mutual respect, producing similarly close-knit teams. His players learned he wouldn’t ask them to do something he wouldn’t do himself, and they love to recount lessons learned from their coach.

In 1983, Howell gave up coaching duties to become the College’s director of physical education and athletics. During his tenure as AD, Rollins raised the minimum GPA requirement for student-athletes to 3.0; added varsity swimming, varsity sailing, and women’s soccer; constructed the Alfond Baseball Stadium, Martin Tennis Complex, and Alfond Boathouse; and received permission to light Sandspur Field for night games—the most difficult of the lot. To win the needed approvals, Howell cajoled and convinced naysayers ranging from the police, who predicted an increase in accidents at nearby intersections, to mothers who claimed their infants’ sleep would be disrupted. The team builder triumphed.

A decade later, Howell turned his focus to the academic side of athletics, particularly the study of sport and its relationship to other disciplines. Traveling to the University of Leicester (UK), he added a master’s of sociology of sport and sports management to his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Howell offered some of the College’s earliest interdisciplinary courses. The jewel in his laurel wreath, Athletics in the Ancient World, culminated with travel to Greece where “Team Greece,” as his students called themselves, actually ran on original Olympic tracks.

An unanticipated consequence of Howell’s interest in Olympic history was an invitation to participate in the International Olympic Academy, followed by another from the People’s Republic of China Olympic Organizing Committee to speak on the subject of Olympism and volunteerism.

On his retirement, Howell returned to Greece to attend an international conference on sport and related social issues, which happened to coincide with civil unrest only five minutes from his hotel. He waded into the throng of protestors seeking to understand their grievances—an encounter he characterizes as “an interesting closure to a long, unintended relationship with Greek society” that began, ironically, before his association with Rollins, as a Marine in the early 1960s.

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