Mount Abe alum, athlete returns as athletic director

BRISTOL — Bristol resident Devin Wendel’s job description didn’t change this summer, but his work commute went from 44 miles, at least by way of the Appalachian Gap, to two-tenths of a mile along West Street.
For the past year, Wendel has been the full-time interim athletic director at East Montpelier’s U-32 High School. This spring he was hired to take over the same position at his alma mater, Mount Abraham Union High School — just around the corner from his family of five’s Munsill Avenue home.
At 27, he is one of Vermont’s younger high school athletic directors, and he replaces two of the state’s most respected and veteran athletic directors, longtime Mount Abe co-ADs Jeff and Mary Stetson.
Wendel, first and foremost, is excited to find his dream job in his backyard, especially given he and his wife Jen have three children. He never left Bristol while working first at Montpelier High School and then at U-32 over the past several years.
“I love this school, coming up through the athletic programs here and just the school system itself,” Wendel said. “And I’m just a born and raised Bristolite. I love living in town. I love the community. So driving an hour and 15 minutes every day to work one way, I knew at some point that was going to not work any more, especially now that I’ve started a family. And, yeah, when this opened up it just made perfect sense.”
And with four years of experience as either an AD, an assistant AD or a co-AD at U-32 and Montpelier, Wendel — also a certified athletic trainer with a 2011 degree from Endicott College in Massachusetts — fully believes he is ready to take over a major administrative role at his hometown school just nine years after it awarded him a diploma.
“I definitely have a lot of people saying you’re young for what you do,” Wendel said. “You need to have a few things. You need to have confidence. You need to know the sports. You need to be able to communicate with your coaches. Which are all things that I am very comfortable doing.”
Wendel, who holds the rare distinction of belonging to state championship teams in three different sports (football, basketball and baseball), took his first administrative job at Montpelier High School in the fall of 2011. There, he shared an AD and athletic trainer position with another certified trainer, but found he was doing more of and enjoying the AD work.
But the position wasn’t a good fit, he said: “Budgets, programs, everything seemed to be on this downward slope.”
Wendel spent most of the next school year as Mount Abe’s athletic trainer, while also working at Long Trail Physical Therapy in Vergennes, but not before spending three months as a long-term sub at U-32 as an athletic trainer and assistant AD.
Then in the fall of 2013, U-32 had a permanent opening for an assistant AD and athletic trainer, and Wendel won the job. In 2015, longtime U-32 AD Amy Molina moved to a new post at that school, and Wendel got the interim promotion to fulltime AD. This spring, he was offered the U-32 job on a permanent basis, and he would have been happy to accept if Mount Abe had not offered him the same position.
“It was great,” he said. “I’d still be over there right now if this job didn’t come around.”
But now Wendel can look back at the past four years as both preparation and a fortunate series of events — without the U-32 promotion, he said, for example, he might not have gotten the Bristol AD post — that ended up with him in a Mount Abe position he had eyed for a couple years.
“I knew it was coming, and I had talked to Jeff and Mary about it a little bit,” he said. “They said a few more years, we’re not sure.”
And it is a position that Wendel was motivated to prepare for and expects to be just as enjoyable — even more so without the long commute.
“I also knew that driving two-and-a-half hours every day was not sustainable for a family, so that’s when I really started to make sure I was keeping up to date on all my continuing ed and making sure I was getting involved in all the athletic director’s stuff as possible. And then the (fulltime AD) position opened at U-32,” Wendel said. “And I got it, and everything else is history. It just seemed to all just fall into place.”
ADs handle event and facility scheduling; event management; hiring, supporting and managing coaches; working with referee associations; budgeting and accounting; making sure athletic trainers are at events (Wendel might have to pinch-hit for awhile, as the firm that provided trainers last year is not available); fundraising; committee work; student discipline; and hundreds of other details.
“This athletic director position, you have to be a jack of all trades, but you have to be master of all of them, too,” Wendel said. “There are a million different pieces happening all at once, and you have to be on top of all of them.”
U-32 had an assistant AD. Mount Abe does not, but Wendel is not too concerned about that, or about following in the footsteps of the Stetsons after their 25 years of service.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s going to be fun. I have a lot of respect for Jeff and Mary,” Wendel said. “I’m just glad that they’re still going to be coaching here. If I need to pick their brain or figure out what their login and password was for this obscure system, I know where they live. I know their phone number. That’s going to be handy. And I’m not here to reinvent the wheel. I’m going to take a program that I loved playing for and just try to build on it and make it better.”
The Stetsons are his neighbors and were one of the first people Wendel told that he had been hired — and that his former baseball coach and supervisors now technically worked for him.
“Jeff comes down the stairs and says, ‘How’s it going, Boss?’ and gives me a big handshake,” Wendel said. “Jeff and Mary are my colleagues and my friends, and now my coaches. So my role is to support them and give them everything they need to be fun and successful for the kids within budgetary constraints.”
Wendel noted Mount Abe also has a new principal, while the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union has a new superintendent. Although he said he will be looking for ways to make good things better, the Eagle athletic program has worked well.
“I think people are expecting change, and I think change is going to come, but it’s going to be a slow process,” he said. “There are a lot of good things that happen in this community, and there are a lot of things I want to keep the same. I’m sure there will be some things that I’ll want to change, but it will be slow and steady for right now.”
Now that he both lives and works in Bristol, Wendel said he looks forward to seeing his children play sports and being able to recruit his parents and other community members he knows to help the Mount Abe program keep running smoothly.
He said he is increasingly beginning to appreciate he might have landed the ideal job. 
“It’s starting to happen. Once I get a few more of my pictures and decorations up it’s really going to happen a bit more,” Wendel said. “But when I came in and got my keys for the first time and sat down and got my computer screen up on the desk and started opening up budget files and schedules, I was like, all right, let it begin, hopefully this is the start of a long career to come.”  

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