A series of stories about Vicksburg High School graduates and some of the interesting jobs they now perform in the outside world.
By Sue Moore
If you watch sports at all on TV, you’ve probably seen some work of 1980 Vicksburg graduate, Keith Wetzler.
Following his graduation from Vicksburg, Wetzler stayed local and went to Western Michigan University. “I didn’t know what to do in college so I started with a business major and then went into public relations, there I had to take a class on television and really enjoyed it.” After taking a number of television production classes, Wetzler’s passion for television was evident to his professor Dr. Tom Pagel and since Pagel knew Wetzler was a walk-on football player for the Broncos he suggested that Wetzler combine his two passions and pursue a career in sports television.
In 1984, one of Pagel’s previous students, Mike Smith was about to start producing Detroit Tigers games for a new regional cable network called Pro Am Sports System (PASS). As PASS went on the air for the beginning of what would be a World Series year, Wetzler was the first-ever intern for the young start-up cable network. He was positioned in the broadcast booth with the announcers, something that was a dream come true for Wetzler, “Larry Osterman was the play-by-play announcer and Bill Freehan was the analyst…now I was a catcher in little league and I wore #11 because my childhood hero was Bill Freehan and that was his number.” Wetzler fulfilled his internship requirements and then was hired as a freelance stage manager during his senior year at WMU. He would also work as a “runner” for CBS Sports during Detroit Lions games.
Upon graduation in 1985, as Wetzler states “I was on the five-year plan” he decided to save up some money and move to the Big Apple…New York City. He tended bar to makes ends meet while applying for television jobs. It was another one of Dr. Tom Pagel’s students and Western alum that helped out. Mo Davenport was working at a 7-year old network called ESPN and hired Wetzler as a freelance stage manager for live games. Keith eventually worked his way up to an associate producer working as a graphic coordinator and traveled the country covering college football and basketball.
Sports television production is largely staffed by freelance employees so Wetzler worked for many different networks, some highlights include the 1988 Super Bowl with ABC Sports in San Diego and later that year the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul South Korea. In 1989, he worked the Super Bowl with NBC Sports, and then traveled the United States and Europe covering track and field for TBS Sports. He capped off the year covering the NFL with NBC Sports.
As Wetzler continued to work freelance on live events into the 1990’s, he eventually took a full-time producer position with the National Hockey League. There he produced home videos and was made senior producer in charge of the League’s high profile show “NHL Cool Shots.” This was a national show that started on FOX Sports Net and then moved to ESPN. “NHL Cool Shots” was a magazine style show that traveled to all the NHL cities to cover anything related to hockey. Wetzler was able to work with celebrities such as Denis Leary, Cuba Gooding Jr., Jerry Bruckheimer, Kiefer Sutherland, George Wendt, Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe and more. He also had very memorable experiences, “I was in the Red Wings locker room in 1998 after they won their 2nd Stanley Cup in Washington. The champagne was spraying and I was close to Sergei Fedorov and I just remember him smiling from ear to ear, it’s something I’ll always remember.”
As you can imagine Wetzler enjoyed his time with the NHL, but unfortunately as the League looked ahead to a certain work stoppage, Wetzler became an early casualty and was laid-off. Again, Wetzler found himself back in the freelance world and was contracted by ESPN to produce a four episode documentary series called “The Season: College Basketball.” He also produced a season long documentary on Marshall University Football featuring Heisman Trophy candidate Byron Leftwich.
A position opened up with FOX Sports in Seattle and Wetzler spent 10-months producing shows in the Pacific Northwest before transferring to FOX Sports in Atlanta and taking over the Senior Producer position in-charge of the $4.1 million Original Programming department. His production team produces all types of shows including biographies, all-access and college football and basketball studio shows covering the ACC and SEC. Wetzler doesn’t travel as much as he used to but was able to go with the Carolina Hurricanes to Russia and Finland to produce a show on the team’s 2010 season opener.
Traveling the world over to cover just about every sport, Wetzler has pretty much done it all. However, he doesn’t forget where he came from, “I loved my time in high school at Vicksburg, we had such a great class, there was about 20 of us that would hang-out most of the time…Todd Birk, Tim Hardy, Jeff Lovell, Ron Noonan, Gary Hallam, Dave Stewart, Roger Allen and Brad Nielsen just to name a few. We had some great times that I’ll never forget. We stay in contact even to this day and from what I hear that’s not the case with other classes.”
The Wetzler family includes wife Julie (the former Julie Huckendubler of the VHS class of 1981), daughters Hannah and Marissa. They live in a northern suburb of Atlanta called Woodstock and he travels to mid-town Atlanta while Julie who is an RN travels the area as a behavior health nurse.