NEW ULM - Sitting behind his desk covered in paperwork and in an office filled with 25 years worth of trophies and other sports-related photos and memorabilia, John Vetter wrapped up yet another day as New Ulm Cathedral's Athletic Director, although this particular day was unlike any he's experienced in his long run.
Vetter got ready to go home on Thursday, June 28. However, there was no planning for next week as he readied for his final day as AD the following morning. Vetter's last day as the AD was Friday, June 29.
For Vetter, it was business as usual. In his 25 years as AD at New Ulm Cathedral, Vetter oversaw a high school athletic program that participated in 40 state tournaments and claimed nine state championships in four different sports. In the days where metro schools seem to dominate state titles, New Ulm Cathedral remained an outstate powerhouse, especially since 2000 when six of those state titles were won.
Staff photos by Steve Muscatello
John Vetter has retired after 25 years of being the athletic director at New Ulm Cathedral High School.
While championship banners hang from Cathedral's gym wall, Vetter points out that it's been a group effort the whole time.
"I always talk about being proud of the fact that we have great cooperation from players, coaches and parents, that's been one of the reasons why we've been successful," Vetter said. "I'm proud of the fact that we've been successful the right way. We've got many compliments over the years about the conduct of our players and coaches and that's something that's important."
Vetter took over the AD job after Stan Wilfahrt retired 25 years ago. Wilfahrt had set a tradition at Cathedral and Vetter was eager to duplicate that success. His work ethic and loyalties to the job are seen from anyone who knows anything about the Cathedral school system and athletic programs.
He's also quick to give out information about school athletics, often times just off the top of his head. When he doesn't know right away, it takes about five minutes for him to get the information and get back to you.
"I think one of the important things for an athletic director is to be organized," he said. "I come in to work everyday knowing that I have a list of things that need to be done over the course of every day and I have a list for each day of the week at least a week in advance. This obviously changes, of course, because things get added to it, but to have a place to start, that's important."
Vetter said he learned a lot about Wilfahrt when he played high school baseball for him and he tried to duplicate the same passion Wilfahrt had to his everyday duties.
"When I started as Athletic Director, the department was in very good shape," Vetter said. "That, to a great degree, is because of what Stan Wilfahrt was able to do during his years here.
"He's someone who wanted to win the right way and follow the rules to be good sports," Vetter added. "His philosophy still continues to carry throughout the department."
Vetter's passion for sports and his memory of specifics is one that is going to be impossible to duplicate. He remembers games from two decades ago, specific players and the teams that were involved. He's able to remember specific games and even plays from those games just like they happened yesterday.
Although he is certainly proud of the state tournament appearances and championships won during his tenure, his legacy will also be judged on the successful careers of all of the past students at the school.
"We certainly have had many of our alumni become very successful, and I don't just mean that in terms of financially, they've been successful in their personal lives and have conducted themselves well throughout those lives, both personal and professional," Vetter said.
In this day and age, head coaches are seem to have a short leash with both the players and the fans. At Cathedral, however, that seems to be a different story. Vetter learned from Wilfahrt that its important to be patient with coaches, and eventually it seems to pay off.
"One of the things that Stan always believed in, and his word was 'continuity,'" Vetter said. "The key to successful athletic programs is having a successful head coach. All of the coaches are important, but having someone at the top is really, really critical if you're going to do well.
"Again, to do well doesn't just mean to win, but it means how the players conduct themselves and things of that nature," Vetter said. "This has been and continues to be a good working environment for coaches, and that's why they, in many cases, have stayed so long. When schools can provide a positive working environment for coaches, these coaches are going to stick around longer. We have a good many veteran coaches in place, and that's good."
Many of the coaches at the school have been around for a while. Softball coach Bob Mertz has been coaching for 33 years, football coach Denny Lux will be entering his 18th year this fall, and baseball coach Bob Weier just completed his 20th year as head coach. Girls basketball coach Mary Dengerud has coached at Cathedral for 13 years over two different time periods.
That long run by the coaches certainly has paid off for the school and the athletes, who get a chance to know the coaches and what they're trying to accomplish.
"It's especially enjoyable for me, seeing these coaches that have been able to coach state championships, and that is the ultimate competitive goal in high school sports," Vetter said. "The real goal, of course, is to be the best you can be as a team, but in the end the dream is to win a state championship."
The last decade has been one that really sets the bar high for other high schools in Southern Minnesota to try to emulate. In fact, since 2000, the Greyhounds have won three state championships in softball (2003, 2005, 2007) dance team (2000), baseball (2005) and football (2010). Overall, the school has 19 state appearances in dance, 13 in softball, five in football, and three in baseball. It claims four second-place finishes, seven third-place finishes, and four state consolation championships.
"What the players and coaches have accomplished over the last 15-20 years or so has really been amazing," Vetter said. "I don't think most people, 20 or 25 years ago, would've thought it possible. It won't be easy to repeat it the next 10 or 20 years. We've been blessed with some outstanding athletes who were willing to listen to their coaches and those are important factors I would say. But I never would've imagined that our teams would do so well, but they have.
"One of the things about being an Athletic Director, is you have to have the ability to rejoice in other people's accomplishments," Vetter added. "I haven't coached a single win or scored a single run or scored a single point. It's our players and our coaches who have done all these, and I'm really happy for them and their parents and for our fans."
Even though Vetter is retired as the AD, he still serves as the school's Development Director. Alan Woitas took over as Athletic Director July 2.
And of course, Vetter made sure he thanked the school that gave him the opportunity to do what he loved.
"I've spent about 750 nights in that gym on duty, and I've spent another 750 games where I wasn't on duty," he said. "I guess I came to work every day, did the best I could, and truly loved the school I worked for."