Kreiter's 33-year run at DeWitt coming to end
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Kreiter's 33-year run at DeWitt coming to end

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Kurt Kreiter remembers it as though it happened yesterday.

He had just finished up his athletic career at Augustana College and collected his degree as part of the graduating class of 1987. Now it was time for his first in-person job interview.

He drove up to DeWitt, Iowa, where he had fond memories of going to Tastee Freez as a kid, and sat down to talk to Dwight Spangler, the football coach and athletic director at Central DeWitt High School, and Howard Ehrler, the school’s principal.

They had been chatting for only about 15 minutes when there was a lull in the conversation.

"I remember Dwight leaning over to Howard and saying ‘I think we ought to hire him, don’t you?’" Kreiter recalled. "And that was it."

Thirty-three years later, Kreiter is still employed at Central DeWitt, but not for much longer.

As of June 30, he will officially retire as the activities director of the high school although he already has cleared most of the memorabilia out of his office and begun to transition many duties to his replacement, Jered Birt.

It is a bittersweet end to more than three decades of serving in a variety of capacities at a school he quickly grew to love.

Kreiter spent 25 years in the classroom teaching biology, anatomy and physiology. He won 216 dual meets in 20 years as the school’s wrestling coach. After 14 years as an assistant under Spangler, he went 60-45 in 11 years as the head football coach.

For the past eight years, he has overseen all extra-curricular activities at a growing school, but this seemed like a good time to get out.

"Honestly, maybe if I was in the classroom and coaching, maybe I’d stay a little bit longer," Kreiter said. "This AD job is a pretty big job, pretty time-consuming, so it’s time."

He admitted there is a tinge of regret leaving now, just as Central DeWitt’s athletic programs are stepping up to join the Mississippi Athletic Conference and compete against much larger schools, including North Scott, Kreiter’s alma mater.

"It would have been interesting," he said of the Sabers’ entry into the MAC. "I hate to use the word fun. … But to go full circle from my roots at North Scott to now seeing all those schools again ... it would have been fun."

He has plenty of reasons for wanting to retire now, however.

He turns 55 in late June and qualifies for full retirement.

With his children both grown and living on the east coast, this will give him more time to spend with his wife, Jenny, and to travel to visit the kids and grandkids.

He will spend a lot of time watching his son, Casey, play for the New York Giants after four seasons with the Denver Broncos. Kurt attended 17 of the Broncos’ 21 games last season and he plans to get to even more games now.

Kurt said he won’t stop working completely. He already has committed to teaching an education class at St. Ambrose University this fall and he thinks he might turn up again as a coach somewhere. He also is considering becoming a wrestling official.

Lasting legacy

The school he is leaving behind won’t soon forget his impact.

"I don’t think anybody ran a program better than him," said Ryan Streets, who was a long-time assistant coach under Kreiter and is now DeWitt’s head football coach. "That’s the biggest thing. I learned a tremendous amount from him, but the biggest thing is he just knows how to run a football program. He really worked at it."

Streets has been to countless clinics and never has encountered anyone who knew how to organize like Kreiter did.

"He just knew how to develop leadership in kids. He showed me how to do that," Streets said. "He’s probably the most prepared person you’ll ever meet. He just knew all those things about running a football program and all those little things that people don’t think about."

Kreiter had a hand in initiating and designing the lower-level programs that serve as feeder system for DeWitt in both football and wrestling.

He even wrote a book, published in 2017, titled "Become the Inspiration: Leadership Principles and Fundamentals for the Beginning Coach."

"I couldn’t have learned from anybody better than him starting off," Streets said. "I got very lucky."

Kreiter has been a mentor to many people, including his successor, who also coached football under him.

"As a coach just starting out, you think you know a lot and then you get thrown into some situations or have some experiences you hadn’t thought about and prepared for," Birt said. "There was just a number of different times I was able to go to Kurt and he was able to give me perspective or help me through different situations."

Birt spent six years as an administrator at Northeast Goose Lake before being hired to replace Kreiter.

"It will be a big task because he’s a guy that’s done it all and done it well for many years," he added.

Getting started

Kreiter never really envisioned himself getting into the education field until he was a sophomore at North Scott.

Before that, he figured he would take over the family farm from his father. But Jack Kreiter had other ideas for his sons.

“He said ‘No, you’re going to go get an education,’" Kreiter said.

Kreiter’s brother, Eugene, also got into coaching and served as the wrestling coach at North Scott.

It was Kurt’s sophomore football and wrestling coach at North Scott, Rick Moeller, who gave him the idea that coaching and teaching might be his future.

Kreiter competed in football, wrestling and baseball at North Scott but encountered a major stumbling block in the spring of his junior year when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

He underwent a 5 ½-hour surgery at Indiana University Hospital and lost 35 pounds, dropping from 185 to 150. But a month after being released from the hospital on July 2 with 33 staples in his belly, he was back on the football field.

He played for the Lancers in that 1982 season as an undersized center and linebacker and also finished out his senior year competing for the wrestling and baseball teams.

"But I had a whole new perspective on things at that point," he said.

He enrolled at the University of Iowa resigned to the idea that his athletic career was over. Then he attended the Hawkeyes’ season-opening football game at Kinnick Stadium.

"I did not have a good experience," he said. "I thought ‘What the heck am I doing here in the stands when I could be playing?’"

Augustana’s legendary football coach, Bob Reade, had recruited Kreiter out of high school, and Kreiter called him over Christmas break and told him he planned to transfer to Augie.

He became part of a program that was in the midst of winning four consecutive NCAA Division III national championships. Kreiter was primarily a special teams contributor his first two years, then became a 6-foot, 200-pound starting defensive end on the last of the national title teams in the fall of 1986.

"He’s one of those guys you never notice but who is always there," Reade said of Kreiter prior to the NCAA championship game that year.

Kreiter also decided to resume his wrestling career shortly after arriving at Augustana, winning CCIW championships and qualifying for the NCAA D-III meet in each of his last two years.

DeWitt debut

At Central DeWitt, he served as an assistant football coach at pretty much every level in his early years. He was thrust into the job of head wrestling coach in only his third year at the school, long before he felt he was ready.

"We laugh about it now but I think my first three years my dual meet record was 4-42," Kreiter said. "We were just terrible. There was some pretty trying times. If I was a little bit older, I may not have stuck with it, but I was young and determined and we finally did get a pretty good foundation set, and that’s lasted quite a long time."

He was much better prepared to be the head football coach when he finally replaced Spangler in 2001 and ended up leading the Sabers to four playoff berths.

There was only one time in all those years when he was even close to leaving DeWitt. He was so anxious to become a head football coach that he applied for a vacancy at Saydel High School in the mid-1990s. He thought he did very well in the interview, too.

"As a matter of fact, I thought I was going to get that job," Kreiter said. "To this day, I haven’t heard yet if I got it or not because they never contacted me.

"I’m so fortunate they didn’t call because a few years after that we had Chad Rowson as a state wrestling champion and then we really started to get some things going."

When Brent Cook stepped down as DeWitt’s activities director in 2012, Kreiter saw his chance to get into the administrative side of things, although he hated giving up coaching and teaching.

Reflections

As he nears the end of his DeWitt career, he has found himself reflecting on the great mentors that he had, like Spangler, Reade, Moeller, all of his old coaches at North Scott and his parents.

He is equally grateful to the many people who worked under him, especially his brother Eugene, Streets and long-time wrestling assistant Darol Snyder.

All of it has come flooding back to him as he has taken on the daunting task of cleaning out his office.

"I was telling someone that it’s probably good that there’s nobody around school because it’s pretty nostalgic taking everything off the wall and packing it up for the last time," he said. "It’s sad."

Friends had planned a retirement party and roast in the first week of May, but that had to be canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"That’s one of the bad things about this whole thing is I haven’t been able to say good-bye the way I wanted to," he said.

He did manage to say farewell in a newsletter, Saber Seasons, he has written for friends, athletes and staff since 2001.

In the final edition, he hearkened back to his battle with cancer.

"Through adversity I received the gift of understanding how important all of this ‘stuff’ is," he wrote. "I developed a different perspective that I have applied all of these years and no longer take things for granted."

He closed by encouraging his readers to live life to the fullest, just as he has for all these years.

"Show others your very best, use your time to give others your very best and be the person who is willing to help bring the best out in others," he added. "Do this in your professional and personal life and you will live without regrets and walk away happy!"

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