In another time, Kurt Kreiter might have been one of the world’s best geneticists.
Instead, the longtime educator has ingrained himself in the DNA of the Central DeWitt Community School District.
And after 33 years as a teacher, coach and activities director, Kreiter is set to depart its ever-changing hallways after announcing his retirement in January.
“Not walking down these halls is going to be weirder for me than anybody else,” he said. “I’ve contemplated how it’s going to feel.
“I’ve only been here.”
Even all these years later, Kreiter remembers walking to his classroom for the first time.
The reminders pop up every August.
“Every time I smell the wax on the floors and the cut grass and feel that humidity, it brings me back,” he said.
Fresh out of Augustana College, Kreiter recalled his feelings ahead of that first year teaching science — “excited and nervous, kind of like how I am feeling now,” he said — but things did not go quite as planned.
“In a short amount of time, I realized that I had no idea what I was doing,” Kreiter said with a laugh.
It got to a point that Kreiter spent his first Christmas break applying for graduate school while thinking maybe genetics or kinesiology was more up his alley than teaching.
Kreiter, though, returned to the classroom, and it turned out to be a life-changing decision.
“In short time, I found that I did enjoy teaching,” he said. “That first year, I knew all of the material, but teaching it is a whole different thing — and I loved it.
“Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had left here and tried something else, would I have that same joy? I doubt it.”
Intro to athletics
Kreiter’s teaching extended outside of the classroom.
He joined Central DeWitt’s coaching ranks in his first year and became the Sabers’ head wrestling coach in 1989.
Things were tough on the mat early. The Sabers started 4-42 in duals under Kreiter’s watch; they won just 17 in his first nine seasons.
“If I was older, I don’t know if I would have been able to do it,” he said. “I was probably too young to know any better, too driven.”
But trials and misadventures — Kreiter relayed one story where he and his brother, in a motivational tactic, declared that the next day’s practice would be voluntary and only the most committed need show up. Only one wrestler did.
To Kreiter, those moments were key building blocks of experience and self-reflection.
“It was a good opportunity,” Kreiter said, “to see that what I’m doing isn’t working, so what can I change?”
For the wrestling program, the answer was exertion. If you were going to wear a purple and gold singlet, you were going to have to earn it.
Or as Kreiter put it, the key to success in wrestling was to “make it hard.”
“It turns out, some kids like it when you challenge them,” he said. “It became cooler to be a wrestler because they were the ones leaving the room drenched in sweat.”
The Sabers produced winning seasons in each of Kreiter’s final 10 years, going 153-63 — a .708 winning percentage — with the 2006-07 team becoming the first in program history to qualify for the state duals, where it finished fourth.
On the gridiron
In 2001, Kreiter took over the reins of the Central DeWitt football program from Dwight Spangler.
It was the culmination of a series of coaching assignments on the gridiron. Kreiter started as the defensive coordinator of the middle school football team before joining Spangler’s staff as a varsity assistant.
“I was happy that I had a whole year to show Coach Spangler my football (knowledge),” Kreiter said. “He moved me down to fresh-soph the next year.”
Kreiter was the sophomore coach for five years before acting as Spangler’s defensive coordinator for three seasons.
“Being at all of the levels (middle school, fresh-sophomore, varsity) really helped me learn about the whole program,” he said.
Using the same Wing-T offense that propelled his Augustana football team to a 49-0-1 record and four Division III national championships during his time there, Kreiter won 60 games in his 11 seasons as head coach of Central DeWitt.
The Sabers made the postseason four times during that span, including two trips to the 3A state quarterfinals. The 2007 and 2008 squads had the best two-year stretch in program history, going a combined 17-4 with two district titles.
Leading two different sports programs in short succession is not easy — even without a lot of the offseason activities that have become prevalent in high school athletics — but was made easier by Kreiter’s third team: his family.
“The one thing that I really need to say is that my wife Jenny is unbelievable,” Kreiter said. “She’s been supporting me every step of the way and she did a great job raising the kids when I was not able to be there.
“My family embraced the challenges — we were a coaching family.”
Leaving a legacy
Those years of ups and downs as a coach have made Kreiter a fountain of knowledge for Central DeWitt’s current roster of coaches, many of whom Kreiter has had a hand in selecting as the school’s activities director since he took the job in 2012.
“The best part of the job is coaches coming in to my office and asking, ‘what should I do here?’ or ‘how can I accomplish this?’” Kreiter said. “In most cases, I’ve learned the hard way on a lot of those things, so I tell them what not to do.”
And the fire that showed on the wrestling mat or football field still burns.
“I’m still as competitive as ever,” Kreiter said. “I love putting something new in that trophy case.”
The Sabers have done plenty of that during Kreiter’s tenure as activities director. But, what impresses him most is that they have come from a variety of sources — from football (2012 state quarterfinalist) to girls bowling (third place in 2014, second this past winter) to boys golf (back-to-back state champions in 2017 and 2018).
The activities director position has also provided a little more flexibility for Kreiter, whose weekends during the recent falls have been busy following his son Casey, a Pro Bowl long snapper for the Denver Broncos and recent signee of the New York Giants.
“If I was still teaching, I wouldn’t be able to see him as much as I have,” said Kreiter, who attended 17 games, including preseason, this past fall.
Still, the activities director position is not what holds Kreiter’s heart at Central DeWitt, the classroom does.
It is that passion for teaching that will help dictate what comes next.
Kreiter likens himself to a high school senior. A huge milestone has been achieved — one earned through years of work.
And beyond that is a future vast and unknown.
“I’m excited and a little nervous,” Kreiter said. “I’m not really sure what is next.”
But he has some ideas.
There could be a return to coaching, though it might be tough to be an assistant — “I have a lot of opinions,” he admitted.
He might get back on the wrestling mat, this time as an official.
And, of course, there is the classroom.
Kreiter did some adjunct work at Ashford University in Clinton and has led leadership classes.
“I’m still interested in teaching,” he said.
In another time, Kreiter might have been found in a laboratory.
Instead, he found the perfect home.
“There has not been a day I haven’t enjoyed coming to school.”