While he may not feel deserving to be inducted into the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame, those around him know exactly why men’s track and field head coach Dave Gottsleben will find his name among greats such as Jim Marking, Warren Williamson, Dwane Clodfelter and Harry Gamage, to name a few.
But if there’s one thing Gottsleben is grateful for, it’s making his parents proud of his accomplishment — particularly his father, who ran track at South Dakota State University, graduated in 1947 after coming back from the war and who died in 2007.
“He and my mother went to every competition — whether I was coaching at Menno High School or Dakota State or here — for as long as they could,” he said. “That was the visible support, but if there’s anything he and my mother gave me, I never wanted to disappoint them. Through that I think that made me be a little more successful.”
Gottsleben, along with 20 others — the largest group ever chosen — will be inducted at a banquet April 11 at the Sioux Falls Convention Center, joining 245 others already in the group.
“I was floored (when I found out),” Gottsleben said. “You read some of the names in the coaches Hall of Fame, and I don’t think at this point in time I see my name with them. In my own mind I don’t feel like I probably deserve it, but I’m happy it’s happened. It’s something my dad wanted for me.”
If anyone can see how deserving Gottsleben is of the award, it’s his student athletes.
Junior Christian Nielsen, currently facing an injury after the first meet of the season this year, has felt Gottsleben’s support first hand.
“I’m obviously going through a pretty rough patch right now, and he’s had my back the entire way,” Nielsen said. “He supported my decision to register, he supported my decision to fix my Achilles and take the rest I need to get back here. He’s really letting me take my career into my own hands and not forcing me to get out there and destroy my body.”
His support doesn’t stop on the field. For senior Josh Petersen, Gottsleben even helped him academically by writing a recommendation letter to get him into dental school.
“He’s one of the most generous guys,” Petersen said. “He cares about his athletes, and he cares about their future. He’s always curious about how the classroom is going, because there’s more than track after college. He’s one of the nicest guys you’ll meet.”
Seeing the athletes’ success on and off the track is where Gottsleben, who has found himself working as a head coach, assistant coach and teacher at several levels, really finds his passion.
“In the past couple weeks I’ve had a lot of people who were here back in 1984, when I started, that have come back when I started and say, ‘had I not gone out for track, I don’t think I’d be the person I am today.’ And ‘track really helped me become effective in whatever I was doing,’ whether that’s a teacher, businessperson, lawyer,” Gottsleben said. “That’s better than any paycheck you can ever get.”
Gottsleben, who obtained his undergraduate degree at SDSU, spent four years as a high school coach in Menno, S.D., attended graduate school at SDSU, spent four years in Madison at Dakota State and then began his career as head coach at USD, has never been concerned with the age and grade of his athletes and students. “You just do the best you can with giving them an opportunity to be skilled,” he said. “You, as a coach, never feel like you know enough. One of the most fun coaching gigs I’ve had was an 8th grade group at Menno who went undefeated in basketball.”
Rather, Gottsleben has always focused on respecting those around him.
“Obviously the technical things are a little bit different the higher you go — the attention span is a little bit higher the older they are — but kids are kids and student athletes are student athletes,” he said. “Hopefully I treated them all with respect and got that back too.”
That respect hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“His first focus is to make good people,” Nielsen said. “Track is also very important to him, but he’ll make you into a better person than you were when you came here.”