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CEDAR RAPIDS — Twenty-three years, several championships, many memories.
Cedar Rapids Xavier’s athletics director Mike Winker is leaving after 23 years of service to catholic schools.
Winker, 51, started at St. Jude’s, worked at Regis and then came to Xavier in 1998 with the goal of building the activities program.
“Our goal for the activities department was to compete with the big boys in town,” he said. “The decision was made early, five years before Xavier, that the new catholic school would in the Mississippi Valley Conference.”
At first it was difficult, he said, but Xavier wasn’t giving up.
“The first two, three years it was difficult for everyone to buy into that concept,” Winker said. “We kept plugging away and as our coaches and athletes worked hard we built up where not only were we able to compete, but started to have success, not only in the conference, but at the state level, as well.”
Over the years, Xavier’s activities department has grown in its athletics and in its fine arts.
“We’ve added boys’ and girls’ bowling, boys’ and girls’ soccer and activities in our Fine Arts department such as show choir,” Winker said.
While Xavier has grown tremendously, Winker is looking toward the future and decided leaving was the best thing for him and Xavier.
“I made the decision as I was turning 50,” he said. “My youngest child, Luke, graduated this year, so I think my age, combined with Luke graduating, combined with being at the point in my life where I needed a new challenge.”
Winker plans to stay in the world of athletics as much as possible in the next part of his career. Winker will be working with The Varsity Group in advertising and will be a lecturer at the University of Iowa.
“I am really looking forward to passing on my experience to students and being a part of a new program that’s new to Iowa,” he said. “It kind of reminds me of when we opened Xavier, so it’s exciting to be a part of that as well. Both of the new jobs on my career path are sports related.”
Winker also said his new career will keep him in the world of education, which is something he is excited about because he can stay close to what he has been working with for 23 years.
Winker has many memories with Xavier, but he will miss the people the most.
“It has been such a wonderful community; it was so exciting to be a part of,” Winker said.
While there are too many memories to choose a favorite, Winker does recall the first football game when Xavier opened and the excitement of the new school. The stadium wasn’t ready so the Saints ended up playing Dubuque Hempstead at Kingston Stadium.
“We estimated over 7,000 people,” he said of the night’s attendance. “Everyone wanted to see the new school, the new colors. We had a big crowd on our side.”
The excitement and energy nearly filled Kingston on that Friday night.
“It was just exciting at that big event for opening the school,” he said. “There were a lot of eyeballs on the football team that night so that was a special memory.”
Xavier will miss Winker. He will always be known as a great activities director, colleague and friend.
“Mr. Winker is a terrific relationship builder and a wonderful supporter of all our students, coaches and directors.” Xavier principal Tom Keating said. “He committed himself to helping our students enjoy their experiences in fine arts, clubs and athletics. He worked tirelessly to make sure everything was in place to help our programs be successful.
“I will miss him not only as our activities director but also as a friend and a colleague. I’m excited for his new opportunities.”
Winker has left Xavier in good hands. Xavier’s new athletic director, Steve Lueck, will start on July 1. Lueck has served as the principal and athletics director at Storm Lake St. Mary’s since 2013. Winker believes this is a good fit for Xavier and he feels a new set of ideas and leadership will be good for the school.
Winker won’t forget Xavier. He said he will be back for a lot of events.
“I live really close to Xavier, so I do plan on attending games and supporting the Saints,” he said. “It will be fun to come back and sit in the stands and support the Saints and be one of the number one fans for the blue and silver.”
Many years, many championships, many memories. Winker always will be a part of the family of blue and silver.