One Wabash Man at a Time
Mississippi sending fewer of its young men to out-of-state colleges than
any state in the Union, the greatest recruiting challenge Lee Cline 66
faces is convincing prospective students to leave home.
by Steve Charles
Lee Cline ambles up to the Colleges Detchon Center and shakes hands
with a group of Wabash students waiting for him on the steps. He greets
each man by name in his laid-back Texas/Mississippi drawl as Betty Cline
hugs two of the young men, asks one how hes feeling and another
how hes settling in after his first weeks in College.
The couple had returned to Wabash for Clines 35th reunion, but this
gathering with Wabash freshmen and sophomores is a reunion of another
sort. The attorney from Laurel, Mississippi recruited all of themeight
of 14 students from Mississippi who have matriculated at Wabash in the
last two years as a direct result of Lee Clines efforts. With 50
more students from the region already referred this year, the Mississippi
pipeline is rivaling the Wabash-Texas connection that has brought so many
quality students to Wabash. The fact that Mississippi has the nations
lowest percentage of students attending out-of-state colleges makes that
an even more impressive statistic.
Some people play golf, some people hunt. I recruit students,
Cline explains. Bringing these guys here and watching them grow
up is a great experience.
An occasional recruiter for the College for 15 years, Cline shifted into
overdrive in 1997 after discerning a new attitude from admissions at Wabash.
[Director of Admissions] Steve Klein made a commitment to broaden
the geographical base of the College through admissions, and I know that
was President Fords philosophy, too. We really have to back that
up now, Cline says. Fortunately, the College generated a lot
of Wabash men who are now living in Mississippi and in the South, so Ive
got a lot of help down here.
Cline rattles off the names of his comrades in recruiting.
George Taybos 66 in Jackson, Ron Rychlak 80 in Oxford,
Jim Davis 83 in New Orleans, and John Ryder 71 and that group
in Memphis do a heck of a job. This isnt just me doing the work.
But Associate Director of Admissions Mike Reidy says the work Cline does
is phenomenal. Besides attending multiple college fairs with
Reidy, the attorney is always on the lookout for prospective Wabash men.
All you have to do is read the damned paper, Cline insists.
In smaller towns, local papers really promote their youngsters.
They start promoting them in their freshman and sophomore years, and thats
when you want to reach them; the earlier we can make contact with the
student, the better.
He keeps an eye out for promising students in other places, too.
Ive known [Wabash sophomore] Jerry Bowie since he was nine,
Cline explains. He grew up in the Boys and Girls Club in Laurel,
and in high school he was head cashier on the 3-11 shift at the grocery
store. Thats a lot of responsibility. Wabash just fits for Jerry.
He meets with counselors to introduce them to Wabash and even arranges
visits to campus for them.
Those counselors can be your greatest ally or worst enemy,
Cline explains. If you establish a rapport with a counselor, thats
great. Weve got some counselors in Mississippi who are big fans
And he talks with sons of his friends and fellow lawyers if he thinks
they might be a good fit with Wabash.
[Wabash sophomore] Jim Hulls dad and I have litigated 20 or 30 cases
together, Cline says, recalling that his own fathers good
friendJim Anderson 43was instrumental in Clines
decision to leave Texas in 1962 to attend Wabash.
A student needs to hear from someone he already trusts, Cline
adds. When I talked to Jim Hull about Wabash, he knew I wasnt
going to blow something by him.
Speaking the truth is essential to the recruiting process.
The worst thing that can happen is for someone to come to Wabash,
have a bad experience, and tell everyone all about it. So we do almost-inverse
recruiting at college fairs. We talk to them about making a real radical
choice. We say, Youre going to go 10-15 hours away from home
to go to college, youre not going to be able to come home to Mama
every weekend, and youre going to get homesickbut you get
over all that stuff if you stick it out.
We tell them its a great place, but its not perfect.
We dont sugar coat the Wabash experience.
Cline also tells prospective students that Wabash is interested in more
than test scores and a high GPA.
We look for well-rounded, solid students taking a good curriculum.
They should be active in athletics or another extra-curricular interest.
Lately, weve been actively recruiting fellas in speech, debate,
and drama, and those in student council or community activities. These
people have the discipline to make it at Wabash.
I tell counselors and students, if all youve got is
a 36 on the ACT or a 1600 on the SAT and a 4.0 GPA, youre probably
not going to get admitted. Thats not what were after. We dont
want someone whos going to go up to Wabash for four years, get a
degree, and leave, cause if we have too many students like that,
our school will wither away.
Its the guys who keep coming back as alumni, more than just
sending a check, that are the absolute strength of Wabash. So I look at
a prospect not for the four years theyll spend on campus, but for
the 30-40 years afterwards.
Cline believes the alumni that recruit with him are part of that absolute
strength. They dont all have his freedom to rearrange schedules
around recruiting, but all have learned the rewards of the game.
I tell guys, try it once; it will grow on you,
Cline says. When George Taybos moved to Jackson, he told me hed
tried to squeeze in a little time to recruit. But now hes gung-ho.
What really locked it in for George was when he got to present one of
Scholarship presentationsCline and his recruiters attend high school
award ceremonies to personally hand out the Colleges scholarships
to future Wabash menare a windfall for the recruitment process.
That presentation not only rivets the students attention,
but also the attention of the school officials and parents, Cline
says, noting that Wabash is often the only private college represented
at these ceremonies. The alumni presence shows the value Wabash places
on the individual and community, and its a blast for the recruiter.
Its just damned wonderful, man. These kids and their parents
are proud as can be, Cline says. He recalls several parents and
teacher approaching him after he presented Tobias Browns scholarship
in Columbus, Mississippi.
They said, You just got the best one, Cline says,
laughing. That has to make you feel good!
The former Wabash political science major says its a buyers
market for students of this caliber.
Weve got competition for every one of these students,
he says. But even if they dont choose Wabash, they finish
the decision-making process with a good taste in their mouth from Wabash.
That builds the Colleges reputation with the counselors and other
Cline warns recruiters, You cant get disappointed. It takes
time to get this, but once it starts paying off, its fun as heck.
Quay Gordon smiles when he calls Clines recruiting style persistent.
Sure, he called memaybe every week, but I didnt mind,
the Mobile, Alabama sophomore says. He was the only alumnus from
any of the schools I was considering that called, except for one guy from
Hampden-Sydney who didnt sound very enthusiastic.
Clines persistence doesnt end once Clines recruits enroll.
I keep in touch with all of them, and I keep in touch with their
parents, Cline says. It just takes a little time on the telephone
to tell them their sons doing fine, and it can mean a lot.
Sometimes follow-up requires more than a phone call.
Freshman Nikeland Cooper, who plans to enlist in the U.S. Marines after
his Wabash graduation, spent last summer in boot camp. He didnt
have time to return home to pick up all of his belongings before moving
to Wabash. So Cline, already planning a drive to Wabash for his reunion,
stopped by Coopers grandmothers house in Moss Point, Mississippi.
She had everything packed for himwe just loaded it in the
car and brought it up. We got in Thursday night, took it over to the Kappa
Sig house. Then Nikeland, Betty, and I went out to dinner.
Its the little things like that that make this so much fun,
Cline says. Its also little things that build the community/family
atmosphere thats essential to Wabash.
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