By Hillary C. Wright, student news writer, with Linda Waggener
After he came home from Vietnam, Phil Gowdy did two things that would change his life for the better: he married Linda Curry, and he followed an instinct to get involved in sports at Campbellsville University.
Gowdy remembers a time right after the war where he could have taken several different paths as a young black male in a rural area.
He said that he was drawn to the basketball games on the grounds at then Campbellsville College. He wasn’t sure about the academics but he knew he wanted to play ball.
Once he started attending the various games, he connected with former CU basketball coach Lou Cunningham, now deceased, who became Gowdy’s mentor toward enrolling as a student and then becoming a graduate in 1976.
“I told Coach Cunningham that after the G.I. Bill paid for my first year here, he would recognize my skills and give me an athletic scholarship.”
That’s exactly how it went. “Lou gave me an opportunity to excel,” said Gowdy. While at CU working toward his degree in physical education, Gowdy would excel at both baseball and basketball.
He was hired to coach and teach physical education and social studies at Caverna High School where he would remain for 14 years before coming back to do that job at Campbellsville High School until retirement.
During his early work years, Gowdy was invited to play professional softball with the Kentucky Bourbons and the Lexington Stallions and says he had the privilege of playing in a World Series. He isn’t sure how he balanced work and pro ball, but he said he somehow was able to enjoy both. His team was within one game of winning the Series when that came to a close.
Gowdy, the first in his family to graduate from college, recently retired from a successful 30-year career teaching social studies and coaching. Members of the community recognize him as a mentor to youths and young adults.
“Phil Gowdy has represented his alma mater well over the years,” said Dr. Michael V. Carter, Campbellsville University president. “He touched thousands of lives through his coaching andteaching.”
Gowdy is a 1967 graduate of the first integrated class of Campbellsville High School. In a recent article, Gowdy, who is also a Black History speaker, told the Central Kentucky News-Journal in a recent article of his experiences during the civil rights movement. He remembered when black people and white people had to sit in different places in the theater and use separate drinking fountains.
He said even at restaurants, black people couldn’t sit at the counter and order food. Instead, their food had to be ordered to go.
He also remembers the Vaughn family, a white family nearby, who welcomed children of all colors to their backyard court to play ball. Playing ball was always his first love.
A member of that family and childhood friend Chuck Vaughn, director of the Big Maroon Club and Centennial Campaign Director at CU, said, “Phil Gowdy easily built relationships with students, especially those who needed a caring adult in their lives. He was available and approachable, consequently students were drawn to him. He unselfishly gave his time and energy to help all students, as well as to those who were also athletes,” Vaughn said. “We need more like Phil Gowdy.”
Gowdy said he considers himself to be the “basic average person with the ability to listen to kids.”
“I’m not a perfect man, but I’m a good listener,” said Gowdy, and his advice to young people today would be to “listen, and to give attention to college.”
“There is so much out there for this generation,” said Gowdy. “College is a great experience where you can make lasting friendships and gain maturity.”
He said that his education at CU helped him in countless ways.
“The Christian values instilled at CU kept me grounded in my decision-making,” Gowdy said. “College is a vehicle to move into a better future.” Gowdy and his wife Linda have two children, Aaron, and Brittany.
Campbellsville University is a private, comprehensive institution located in South Central Kentucky. Founded in 1906, Campbellsville University is affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention and has an enrollment of 2,405 students who represent 98 Kentucky counties, 25 states and 36 foreign nations. Listed in U.S. News & World Report’s 2008 “America’s Best Colleges,” CU is ranked 22nd in “Best Baccalaureate Colleges” in the South and eighth in the South for “Great Schools, Great Prices.” CU has been ranked 15 consecutive years with U.S. News & World Report. The university has also been named to America’s Best Christian Colleges®. Campbellsville University is located 82 miles southwest of Lexington, Ky., and 80 miles southeast of Louisville, Ky. Dr. Michael V. Carter is in his tenth year as president.