Ask Otis Dowdy what keeps him busy and you’ll probably get a chuckle. The long-time Roanoke Valley resident has always had a lot on his plate.
And, there’s no letup in sight.
Today, he loves to travel, provides guidance at an addiction assistance program and if you’re interested, can show you the techniques to pin a wrestling opponent. Along the way he’s had a long career in education and administration in the Roanoke County School System.
Born in Vinton, Dowdy was a 1965 William Byrd High School graduate, where he, as he describes it best, was consumed with sports.
At age 14, Dowdy was teaching swimming lessons at the Vinton War Memorial Pool when he had his first run-in with the law.
“A police car pulled up and Vinton Police Chief Clarence Irby got out and told me there was some concern over there not being proper supervision here,” Dowdy recalled with a smile. “He looked around and said, ‘everything looks OK to me,’ and drove away. That gave me a lot of confidence.”
In ninth grade Dowdy played JV football, basketball and was a member of the Byrd track team where he reached new heights; he was a pole vaulter.
By tenth grade he was the quarterback of the Byrd varsity and was talked into going out for wrestling.
“I knew nothing about wrestling,” Dowdy noted during a recent lunch interview. “A guy named Jimbo Sell told me he would teach me all about wrestling. He literally beat me up. But, it taught me a couple of things that stayed with me from that point on. I learned you couldn’t quit. It gave me that ‘never quit’ attitude and established my attitude on competing. What I learned in wrestling is what I am today.”
During his junior season at Byrd, Dowdy went undefeated until the regional tournament where he lost on a referee’s decision in overtime. He finished third in the regionals his senior year.
After graduating from Byrd, Dowdy hit the road to Mississippi where he enrolled in a junior college that he described as ‘a suitcase college in the country.’ The following year he returned to Roanoke, enrolling in the newly-opened Virginia Western Community College where he was a student for two years before transferring to Virginia Tech. He graduated from Tech with a degree in health, physical education and recreation.
At Tech, Dowdy met Tom Martin who mirrored what would become Dowdy’s trademark in his education career; a demanding professional.
With his degree in hand, Dowdy landed at Cave Spring High School as a physical education teacher, and where then-principal Leonard Hale was also looking for a cross country and outdoor track coach. Dowdy also joined the football staff as an assistant. It also presented the unique opportunity in that Hale was interested in starting a wrestling program at Cave Spring, and he knew Dowdy brought the experience.
“Leonard Hale was interested in wrestling and knew enough about the sport,” Dowdy recalled. “He invested in the sport, buying mats and uniforms before we even had a team.”
One year later, with Dowdy at the helm, Cave Spring had its first match against Northside. It was a match he’ll never forget, and one he also calls a defining moment.
“We got beat 72-0,” Dowdy said, shaking his head. “Two of our guys got in a fight. It was total lack of performance and total lack of effort. I changed that in a hurry. I also became the biggest thief, watching everything the good teams did and stealing what they did. We kept improving and won the district in my third year.”
In the fall of 1989 Dowdy became the assistant principal and athletic director at Cave Spring. He passed the athletic director’s hat three years later, but remained as an assistant principal for seven more years. After 30 years at Cave Spring, Dowdy moved to William Byrd as an assistant principal, where stayed for 10 years, keeping involved in athletics at every step.
After “officially” retiring from administration, Dowdy volunteered 6 years for the Hidden Valley High School program under Titan head coach Ray Broughman.
“They let me hang around, teaching skills,” Dowdy modestly noted.
In 2017, his expertise sent him to William Byrd Middle School, teaching the skills needed to succeed to more aspiring high school wrestlers.
Dowdy’s mastery in wrestling had him joining Hall of Fame broadcaster Dave Ross as a television analyst during the VHSL state championships at the Salem Civic Center for years.
“Dave did the play-by-play and I did the analysis for matches involving local wrestlers,” Dowdy said.
“We did it for around 10 years from about 2000-2009,” Ross pointed out. “Otis played an important role because of the information he brought and his knowledge of wrestling.”
Dowdy was inducted into the Roanoke Valley Wrestling Association’s Hall of Fame inaugural Class of 2006.
“It was a huge honor for me,” Dowdy notes. “The Hall of Fame recognizes those who have had a big influence on wresting in the area. They name a coach of the year and award scholarships totaling a minimum of $3,000 a year based on performance, need and community service.”
The annual RVWA awards banquet will take place May 9th at 6pm at the Holiday Inn Tanglewood where the Class of 2018 will be honored.
Today, Dowdy enjoys traveling worldwide with his wife, Jo, often visiting their children and 10 grandchildren that are spread across the U.S.
He also is heavily involved with ‘Families Anonymous”, a support group for friends and family members of people suffering from addiction problems. Dowdy is a facilitator in the 12-step program that provides peace and serenity in helping people go from one point to another, meeting every Tuesday night at St. John Lutheran Church on Brambleton Avenue.
While Dowdy is short in stature, former U.S. Speaker of the House Carl Albert may have been describing Dowdy perfectly when he once commented on wrestling, “This is a sport that has turned many boys into men and many men into leaders. And, it is a sport in which you can be a Giant, regardless of how big you are.”