Dr. Leo Lewis III has made a successful transition from college to high school athletics administration. He moved from the University of Minnesota to North High School last year.
“Larry McKenzie [the school’s boys’ basketball coach] came to me and talked about being the athletic director at North,” recalls Lewis, the former U of M associate athletics director, the only Black senior member of the school’s athletics administration, who was hired by former AD Joel Maturi.
In that position, Lewis created opportunities where the off-campus community and the university worked together in ways they haven’t collaborated before. A diversity task force was created, mentor pools were formed, and different opportunities for diversity initiatives within the athletic department were offered as well.
U of M alumni returned to talk about their experiences at the school largely due to Lewis’ insistence, and also provided opportunities to help current students become better athletes as well as serve the surrounding communities. He also helped create the ACE Institute Summer Boys program in 2004 that had over 300 young Black men as participants.
However, when Maturi announced his retirement a few years ago, “I knew that the department was moving in a different direction that I did not see myself in,” continues Lewis. “The new athletic director gave me a small role in the athletic department.”
The timing seemed perfect as, while Lewis was looking for a change, the Northside high school was looking for help as well.
“North was looking for a paradigm shift,” says Lewis. “This would be the perfect opportunity for me to give them something that I know that I can provide, putting academics first and athletics second.” Lewis was hired last year.
Working in athletics seems a natural fit for Lewis, who played college football at the University of Missouri and played pro football for Minnesota and Cleveland. He watched his father, Leo Lewis, Jr., work as an athletic director at Lincoln University, a historically Black college in Jefferson City, Missouri.
Lewis, Jr. who also played for Bud Grant in the Canadian Football League, grew up in St. Paul and in 1983 was the first grand marshal for Rondo Days. As his father gave back, so later did the son — Lewis began his Leo Lewis Foundation in the Twin Cities and developed life skills for students in sports.
Now he’s applying his experiences both as a former college and pro athlete, and an associate athletic director at a Big Ten school, to North High. “I felt that I was the person that can turn athletics around” at the school, concludes Lewis.
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