NLA’s Athletic Director, Curt Wetsel, Leaves Legacy of Leadership and Service

After thirty-six years of passionate service to the community of New Life Academy in Woodbury, Athletic Director Curt Wetsel plans to finish his career effective June 30, 2016, sealing a strong legacy most schools would only dream of.

To say Wetsel is the face of NLA Athletics is an understatement—for many, including New Life Academy’s Head of School Cade Lambert, Wetsel is the face of New Life Academy entirely.

“Curt really is every school’s dream,” Lambert said. “He started most of the athletic programs at NLA when the school was founded in the late 1970s, and he’s led us through numerous state championships and won the Minnesota State High School League Region 4A Athletic Administrator of the Year Award.”

In his thirty-six year tenure, Wetsel has indeed produced an unusually impressive resume, evolving what began as a small church school into an athletic powerhouse. But it wasn’t without work–Wetsel knows from experience that to reap a harvest, you first have to plant the seeds.

The process started in 1980, when Wetsel enrolled his daughter, Kristen, in kindergarten at NLA; she now has 3 children in the school in grades 10, 9 and 5. Their second daughter, Kari, was enrolled the following year. Attracted to the school for its Christian focus and strong academic reputation, Wetsel and his wife, Nancy took jobs there. She taught first and second grades and served as elementary principal for 24 years, retiring after 30 years at NLA, and he did just about everything.

“I wore many hats in those days, since it was just a small church school” he said. “At first I was the business manager and transportation director, then in 1984, I became the athletic director,” he said. Wetsel has since nurtured the athletic program, adding and coaching numerous boys’ and girls’ teams and forging the path to sixteen state tournament appearances—seven of which the teams won.

Whether win or loss, for Wetsel, athletics were never just about the game–he has always viewed sports as an opportunity to nourish students’ character, preparing them to positively impact the world around them. “We really focus on teaching kids how to deal with both success and loss. We’ll always have hurdles to overcome, and athletics teach kids how to deal with those. We want to live graciously no matter what the outcome,” he said.

Though much of his work has been on the field and court, like any good leader, Wetsel has been active in the trenches, taking an active part in the school’s everyday life. New Life Academy’s mission is to educate and energize each student to impact their world for Jesus Christ and to reach their full potential in scholarship, leadership and service out of love for God and one another. As “coach” to the NLA’s coaches and mentor to its athletes and students, Wetsel has long lived out New Life’s faith foundation, modeling a life of selfless service and humble leadership. Suffice it to say, he got noticed.

Dave Stead, Executive Director of the Minnesota State High School League, speaks only accolades of Wetsel. “I’ve known Curt to be a calming, unifying, and impactful leader. He embraced our initiative of transformational coaching, teaching the concept long before it became an official initiative of the MSHSL” he said.

Wetsel has shaped an athletic program known for its holistic, transformative approach. “We’ve been doing that all along because we’re a Christian school–we want to coach kids from the inside out. That’s our goal in all we do,” he said. “Whether academics, fine arts, or athletics, we just want to encourage our students to make a difference in their world for Jesus.”

In light of his focus on mentorship, it’s not surprising that even in the face of numerous awards and honors, Wetsel said his most cherished memory is the people he worked with. “I’m a guy who really values relationships,” he said. “I love forming long-lasting relationships with students I have coached.”

In addition to his roles of mentor, coach, and Athletic Director, Wetsel has kept a number of evening and weekend jobs over the years, including working as a firefighter and EMT. “I have always been very active, so it will be strange to go from sixty miles per hour to ten. But I’m at the phase of life when a few weeks in the winter somewhere warm sounds nice,” he laughed.

Wetsel does hope to remain engaged with the school in some capacity, though he’s still exploring what that looks like. “I’m working on a plan, but I definitely want to stay involved in the NLA community,” he said. “It’s been a good ride, getting to do what I’m passionate about–working with kids in a Christian environment. I’m so blessed.”

Lambert added, “Words can’t describe the impact Curt has had on New Life Academy–our school community gets to enjoy the fruit of thirty-six years of an incredible man’s hard work. I think we’re the ones who are blessed.”