By PATRICK SLACK
Byron Westrich was looking for a change.
It turned out, that change was right down the road.
After spending the past 21 years with the Holdingford school district, the 1986 Upsala High School graduate is returning as the school’s new activities director (AD).
Instead of needing to pack up a moving van with a couple dozen boxes like many people do when changing jobs, his commute will actually be cut down from 17 miles to only two.
Upon graduating from Upsala, Westrich attended St. Cloud State University, serving as an assistant boys basketball coach while there.
He then went to Holdingford, spending 21 years as a physical education teacher with the school.
The opportunity for a new direction arose in June when longtime AD Ken Solarz decided to retire.
Westrich had already been in contact with Dean of Students Vern Capelle about an opening for a physical education (PE) teacher, the position he held at Holdingford.
Upsala had been searching for someone who could teach health or social studies as well as PE, but that changed with the AD position suddenly open.
“I knew then that I had a little better chance and I was more intrigued in the position,” Westrich said.
“It was time for a change,” he said. “It was a great opportunity for me to teach here and be the AD.”
Along with teaching, Westrich accrued a wealth of coaching experience at Holdingford that he expects to be able to draw from.
He was the head coach of the boys basketball team for 21 years and a junior high coach for 18 years in football, seven years in track and field and six years in baseball.
“I think having been a coach at three different levels, my experience will help give me a better balance and understanding of what’s required in athletics,” Westrich said.
Westrich had no intentions of moving out of the head coaching role until recently.
After seeing Capelle, who he had developed a close relationship with as a player and coach, become the dean of students, Westrich began to consider making a transition into an administrative role.
“This was a great opportunity to give back to the community that sparked my passion for sports,” Westrich said. “Without the great teachers I had long ago, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Westrich and his wife Trudy are now excited that their children will be a part of that same community as well.
“This was kind of a package deal,” Westrich said. “It wasn’t just what was best for my career; we made it a family decision.”
“We knew this would be a great school and a great fit and the students here have already reached out to our kids,” he said.
The couple has six kids: Damon, in his second year of college at Fergus Falls, Darla (senior), Dunkin (ninth grade), Darius (eighth grade), Danica (seventh grade) and Delaney (third grade).
“We call them the ‘D’ team,” Westrich said. “It was kind of an accident, but after the first three we started searching for names starting with ‘D.’”
After all, “It’s easier than saying all of them separately,” he said.
However, Westrich will have to learn a few different names starting in the fall, as Upsala has cooperatives with other schools for more than half of their sports.
Upsala combines with Swanville in baseball, football and boys and girls track and field; with Royalton in wrestling; and with Long Prairie-Grey Eagle in girls tennis.
Additionally, Upsala competes individually in boys and girls basketball, softball and volleyball.
Learning the processes that go along with each will be among the biggest challenges Westrich anticipates facing.
Among Westrich’s primary goals are trying to take advantage of the community’s strong support base to build a booster program to make physical improvements, as well as encourage athletes to participate in as many activities as possible.
“We really want to get as many kids out for three sports as possible,” he said. “In a small school, it’s even more important.”
“One of the reasons I coached three sports was to try to be a role model to kids that they can be out for three sports and contribute,” he said.
Beyond that, Westrich plans on primarily overseeing an athletic program that is in good shape.
“There are great teams here with very talented players,” he said. “I just want to help, aid and assist in any way I can.”