When Debbie Katzfey, the new athletic director at SM East, talks about how unique her school is, she has a deep resume to back it up.
East is her fourth, big high school in a sports-related career stretching back to 1984.
She began coaching and teaching at Omaha Central, and then brought her talents to Lee’s Summit High, Lee’s Summit North and finally Lee’s Summit West, where she helped build the new school’s sports program from scratch as its first athletic director.
But nothing prepared her for the generational bench strength at SM East.
“One truly unique thing about East is I find parents and grandparents who graduated and now have grandchildren here,” she said. “People are very vested and truly love it.”
Katzfey moved around a lot as a kid. She was born in little Wadena, Minn. and her dad Hank Hettwer coached college football at several places before landing at KU. That’s where she graduated from high school and college.
Then it was off to Omaha for six years teaching physical education and coaching volleyball, basketball, swimming, soccer and cheerleading before coming to Lee’s Summit.
After 26 years teaching and coaching at the three high schools there, she retired on July 1. Less than three weeks later, she landed her new position at SM East.
So what brought her out of brief retirement?
“Kids,” she said. “When I decided what to do after retiring, everything kept going back to kids. That’s my passion. If I’m having a bad day, I go out in the hallway and talk to kids.”
She’s a high energy woman who’s enthusiasm is contagious.
“I love striving for the best,” she said, “and clearly Shawnee Mission East has proven itself being a top educational institution and extracurricular programs in Kansas.”
The sports programs at East are top-notch, she said.
“Coaches expect a lot from their student-athletes and give a lot to them to be successful,” she said. “I’ve found the parental support for improving facilities and giving students the best experience possible fantastic.”
In her short time at East, Katzfey also has started a community service program in which members of each team volunteer their time for a project of their choosing. Both the athletes and their coaches responded with enthusiasm.
“My role as athletic director is to provide support for coaches, student-athletes and parents, and to try to find ways to get all kids involved,” she said.
“To me, it’s important to find out what kids like to do and find a home for them.”
Katzfey said she misses actively coaching, but is finding a substitute following her children’s sports activities.
Her daughter Bailey plays volleyball for the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith, and son Jacob is a baseball player at Wichita State. Her oldest daughter, Alex, lives in Dallas.
And speaking of sports, Katzfey met her husband Jim on a blind date at a softball field in Lawrence.