The Etzler family has deep roots in the East Allen County Schools District and a lot of that was cultivated by football. Woodlan High School’s football field is named after coaching legend Leland Etzler. “We’re very honored and very humbled by the fact that they’ve named the football field after Leland,” said Gayle Etzler, Leland’s wife.
Coach Etzler led the Woodlan Warriors for 40 years, winning 11 Allen County Athletic Conference titles. The Indiana Football Hall of Famer passed away in September 2018 at the age of 78. His wife said he was an educator both on and off the field. “He taught for 44 years. I taught 31 years. We’re all strong proponents for East Allen County. We all love teaching.”
Gayle serves on the East Allen County Schools Board and when she said “we” she wasn’t only talking about she and her husband but their entire family. “There are five of us who went into education.”
One of the five is daughter Lyn Randall, who teaches at East Allen County’s Prince Chapman Academy. “I come from a whole family of teachers,” said Randall. “I know that as an educator I feel like if I have the ability to impact even a fraction of the lives that my father has I will feel like I did my job.”
“Leland was a football coach but he really thought of himself as an educator and football was his tool to teach kids values, team work and life skills,” said Lyn’s husband David. He too is a Leland-inspired educator who teaches at Woodlan. David is also a former basketball coach and he had this to say about his mentor, “He was wonderful to me as a fellow coach. When he became my father-in-law he was just as wonderful. Other than my father he was the most influential man in my life.”
“He was my first boss working at the Dairy Sweet when I was 14 years old,” said Haley Etzler who also married into the family and like the others also teaches. She says her father-in-law taught life lessons she now teaches in her classroom.
“He’d say 90-percent of all problems come from lack of communication,” said Haley. “Those types of things stuck with me and that’s one of those things I remember when talking to parents and talking to students. Communicating with them helps.”
Combined with Coach Etzler’s years of service, the Etzler family has invested over 100 years in East Allen County Schools. They’ve spent those years providing coaching, counseling, teaching and leadership, leaving an educational legacy and a little football greatness. “I think the kids and I realized his legacy is even greater than we thought because I’ve gotten so many comments from so many people and cards and letters and phone calls that said he really touched their lives,” said Gayle.
“He was trying to get to heaven and I think he would hear God say well done good and faithful servant,” said David. “Life well lived.”