Great Bend USD 428 Activities Director Matt Westerhaus likes to describe things in threes. That may come from his penchant for “shooting threes” when he played basketball at Benedictine College in Atchison.
Westerhaus, formerly the Junction City High School Athletic Director, was hired to become the Great Bend USD 428 Activities Director following the retirement of David Meter at the end of the 2021-2022 school year. He recently spoke to the Great Bend Kiwanis Club about his interaction with coaches and students, as well as his “community connections.”
Westerhous came to Great Bend with seven years of experience as a classroom instructor and 11 years as the AD at Junction City. He graduated from Junction City High School in 1991, then earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in health, physical education and recreation from Benedictine in 1995.
“I was coaching and running a screen-printing place in Junction City,” he said. He loved coaching and decided he needed to complete his teaching credentials at Wichita State University. Westerhaus started teaching and coaching in 1999, coaching middle school football, middle school tennis, high school cross country, high school basketball and high school track.
He obtained his Certified Athletic Administrator’s designation through the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.
Matt and Gretchen Westerhaus were married right before starting their senior year in college. She took a year off from attending K-State to be with her new husband, then finished her education and started teaching in Geary County USD 475 in 1997.
Junction City, where his mother still lives, was a great place for the young couple. Matt and Gretchen have two children. Their oldest, Kate, lives in Russell where she teaches science at the middle school and her husband is the high school football coach. They have a 1-year-old girl, Avery, “so I’ve got a grandbaby that’s close, which is nice,” Westerhaus said. Their son Kody is a senior at Pittsburg State, where he is in the ROTC program. “He will commission next spring and he’s looking forward to serving his country in the Army. We’re looking forward to being able to travel and maybe see the world wherever he goes.”
He also has a few ties in and around Great Bend. His sister and her husband, Shelly and Steve Buhler, lived here in the late 1980s and early 1990s and worked at Barton Community College. Steve coached football at GBHS.
His wife’s father, Bob Schmoekel, is from Ellsworth but is known as a longtime cross country and track coach at Junction City.
The Westerhauses arrived in Great Bend over the summer and found a welcoming community.
“Your community that you live in has great people, great students. They’ve been awesome to my family, and very welcoming. (We) really call this place home. So that’s a tribute to you and everybody that lives in Great Bend.”
It goes without saying that he loves the students at GBHS.
“They’re great kids. Yeah, we have to deal with some things here and there but they've shown me that they have a lot of Panther pride and pride in their community, which is awesome.”
His job as activities director covers grades 7-12. He oversees the athletic program at the middle school and multiple activities at GBHS, from general clubs and organizations such as robotics, to Kansas State High School Activities Association activities including band and debate, as well as all of the athletic programs.
Courtney Kelly is the new secretary in the activities department.
“Dave Meter and (retired secretary) Lana Wolf, who I’m sure most of you know, served this high school and community for over 60-plus years,” Westerhaus said. “I owe them a lot of a lot of credit for everything that they’ve done over the years.”
Meter and Wolf helped the newcomers make the transition and understand how things run in the organization, and now they are moving forward.
Three things for coaches
Westerhaus has talked to his coaches about three things: communication, character and competition.
“Everybody wants to win, but I am a firm believer in taking care of the little things: Being on time when time is involved, taking care of your academics, attendance, behavior – all those little things that sometimes kids don’t want to buy into that allow you to put a process in place – and then all the other stuff takes care of itself,” he said.
Communication – “I challenged them to be better at communicating with our families.” He wants parents to know when and why things are happening. As a former student-athlete, he always appreciated good communication from his coaches. “I always wanted to understand why I’m not able to do this. I think when you understand why something isn’t happening, then you can start to make some changes for yourself personally, to get what you ultimately want.”
Character – The experiences instilled while participating in youth sports or other extracurricular activities can last a lifetime, but coaches have to lead by example, he said. “My challenge to our coaching staff was, take some time during the week to instill some type of life lesson, core value, if you will, so kids understand what that means and can apply it to the rest of their life. I’ve said this before, 99% of our student-athletes are probably not going to get the opportunity to play at the next level. ... What attributes are you giving them that will help them be successful down the road? I challenge them to make a point to do that on a weekly basis.”
Throughout this year, Westerhaus hopes his coaches will “identify three core values that our athletic department can hang their hat on, what we’re really about.”
Competition – “I am probably my own worst critic,” he said. “I should be my own worst critic. When things don’t go right I ask, ‘what do I need to do to make sure that doesn’t happen again?’” Coaches also need to ask themselves what process they have in place that allows them to grow as coaches and allows student-athletes to be competitive on a consistent basis.
“Notice I didn’t say ‘win.’ I said ‘competitive on a consistent basis.’ I think that’s what all of us would love to see in all of our programs: to be competitive on a consistent basis and also provide an environment where kids feel appreciated and wanted, and love being in that environment.”
Three things for students
Meeting with student-athletes, Westerhaus also talks about three things.
“One of the first things I talk to them about is core values.” At some point during the year, he will ask a student, “‘What core values do you have inside of you that are shown every day, that people can see and go yep, that’s what that person is about?' For Mr. Westerhaus, it’s caring for people, it’s passionate and it’s hard-working. Those are my three attributes, my core values I live every day.
“So I ask them, ‘what is it that you’re going to hang your hat on? What is it that you are about that people will recognize?’ So if you see some of our athletes, you may ask, ‘what are your three? What are your three key attributes or values that you have that are really explanative of what you’re about?’
“The second thing I ask is, ‘what do you want your legacy to be at Great Bend High School? What do you want to be remembered for?’ ... And then the other thing we talk about is attendance, academics and behavior.
“Our students enter our school each and every day, and the first priority is to learn. You enter the doors to learn. Everything that we provide extracurricular is icing on the cake, but they’ve got to understand that academics and taking care of business comes first.”
Community Connections is a regular feature of the Great Bend Tribune, showcasing people who live in the Golden Belt. We welcome readers to submit names of individuals who are active in the community that they would like to see featured in a future story. Send suggestions to email@example.com and explain their “community connections.”