To protect and serve — and coach

NEW ULM – By the way they see it, Jay Backer and Matt Andres have the best of both worlds.

Both Backer and Andres work full-time as police officers. Backer is employed by the New Ulm Police Department and Andres by the Sleepy Eye Police Department. While both maintain a busy schedule juggling police work and family life, they both somehow manage to find time for their other love – coaching high school athletics.

Backer is the New Ulm High School head baseball coach, a position he’s held for eight seasons. The New Ulm baseball program is one rich with tradition, something Backer is well aware of and proud of.

Andres is the defensive coordinator for the Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s football team. The 10-year veteran of coaching has helped turn around a program and he’s helped to make it a powerhouse in the state. The Knights have been to three straight state tournaments.

In a day and age where most varsity coaches are also teachers, Backer and Andres have different challenges.

“Having a full-time job that isn’t in the education field certainly makes it challenging to be a varsity head coach,” Backer said. “During the season, I switch with other officers and request to work the overnight shift. I usually have officers standing in line who are willing to work my day or afternoon shifts in exchange to work their overnight shift. This year I will be working 26 straight weeks of the overnight shift in order to coach.”

Jay Backer, New Ulm

Backer is a veteran of the New Ulm Police Department, where he holds the rank of corporal. Unlike most police officers, Backer initially didn’t pursue a job in law enforcement.

At first, he wanted to be a physical education teacher and a coach. But after a couple of years of schooling, he realized the education field was something he wasn’t interested in making a career out of, so he decided to switch to law enforcement.

He couldn’t have made a better choice. He’s been on the police department for 14 years and he’s been coaching baseball at New Ulm for eight years.

As far as police work, he seems to like the fact that every day will be different than the previous one.

“I just enjoy the freedom,” he said. “The ability to be outside and in your squad car and the uncertainty of your shift.”

Before becoming the head coach at New Ulm High School, Backer coached at the VFW baseball level for 13 years. He later became the B-squad coach at NUHS before taking over the head coaching job.

Backer, who graduated from NUHS in 1992, never envisioned becoming the head coach.

“I never thought I would be coaching the varsity, after playing for the legendary coach Jim Senske,” Backer said. “It’s certainly an honor, and I never take this job for granted.”

Backer’s job as a police officer is different every day, something that he enjoys. The job means he has several roles on any call.

“I guess the opportunity to assist people in troubling times,” Backer said. “Sometimes you’re the counselor, sometimes you’re the therapist, you’re the police officer or the medic. You wear a lot of hats as a police officer, and you have to be there in the rough times and possibly find a solution to things.”

Any day of being a police officer can be stressful, and Backer is well aware of that. It’s a part of the job that he has to deal with very quickly and appropriately.

“You put yourself in a lot of situations that can turn bad real quick,” Backer said. “You resort back to your training and hopefully things work out in the end.”

And it’s just as stressful at times on the baseball diamond.

“I was once asked which job has more stress, and I had to pause for awhile before I came up with my answer,” he said.

As hectic as his days may be, he knows that he gets to wear two different uniforms and it’s a privilege for him to do so.

“It is still an honor for me to have the chance to wear both uniforms,” Backer said. “Working for my hometown police department as well as being the head coach of the NUHS baseball program, a program that is filled with success and tradition is something I never take for granted.”

Backer has a career record of 134-45 as of last Wednesday. While it’s always nice to have a successful season and teach the players the game of baseball, he also takes pride in having some of his former players interested in police work.

“I’ve had five or six kids over the years that have ridden along with me,” Backer said. “I know I’ve had at least four from coaching go into law enforcement. It’s nice, because they see me in a different light. They’ll ride along with me, and we’ll talk other things than baseball. We’ll talk about police stuff, it’s kind of nice, and it’s rewarding.”

He’s not sure how long he wants to coach baseball. But he knows he won’t do it forever because his family comes first.

“The grind of the baseball season as well as the overnight shifts that I have to work do take a toll on my family,” he said. “As my two children get older, it is likely that I will leave my post as the head baseball coach and pass the torch to someone else. I always stress to my seniors at season’s end to strive to be the best husband and best father you can be. Those two goals should be on the top of your list. I am kind of going against that by abandoning my own family for three months in the spring.

“You have to have a very understanding spouse, and she has been over the years,” Backer said. “We are kind of opposites as she has a fine arts background, while I have an athletic background. We have learned to appreciate and respect each other interests.”

Matt Andres, Sleepy Eye

Andres had a good feeling about being a police officer at a young age. He recalls a time that he had an unwanted guest in his yard and the police came to help. As they say, the rest is history.

“When I was young, we had a day when I was home with my little sister, we had a raccoon in our yard and it was obviously sick,” Andres said. “I called my mother, and the police showed up. They came and talked to us, which I thought was really neat and they told us what was going to happen. They ended up taking the raccoon out, and I thought it was such a neat thing that they came and talked to us and took care of the problem for us. I thought right then and there, that’s what I want to do when I get older.”

Andres, who is 36 years old, has been a police officer in Sleepy Eye for almost 11 years. In that time, he’s become the Chief of Police, a role he took over May 1.

Andres has balanced the role of police officer and assistant football coach at Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s since moving to the area from Apple Valley. His wife Christina told him about a coaching opening at St. Mary’s and he was a volunteer for a couple of years before taking over the defensive coordinator job under then coach Ron Berdan.

Although he didn’t see himself working in a smaller town, he discovered the people of Sleepy Eye to be very friendly from the moment he moved there.

“It’s a lot more friendly, actually,” Andres said of the small-town lifestyle. “I didn’t miss the traffic up in the cities, and the people here are friendly. A lot of people that I had met were appreciative and were much more personal, which I liked.”

Along with his family life, Andres has been able to balance both police work and football. Although it hasn’t always been easy, he’s been able to do so without too many problems.

“Ever since I’ve been here, we’ve had a 24-hour schedule, and we had a schedule where we had a month of days and few weeks of evenings and nights,” Andres said. “It was difficult, there were times where I had to miss football because my police work came first. But I had a really good department, with trading some shifts and helping me out. The school and the football team was very understanding and they knew what my first commitment was.”

As a police officer, he knows he’s in a unique situation with his players. The players all respect him both as a coach and for his line of work.

“We have pretty respectful kids, if anything, they get to know me in two different levels,” Andres said. “They’re pretty easy going as it is, and I think it’s a comfort level thing. The first year as freshmen, they’re maybe a little stand-offish. They don’t know how to take me as a police officer and a coach, but the older ones have a comfort level with me on the football field and as a police officer.”

Andres and his wife have three children at home, so football season gets to be a little hectic at the Andres household.

“My wife deals with more stress, I have three children so she deals a lot with my police schedule and my football schedule,” Andres said. “I’m almost an absentee husband and parent for three months, I’m incredibly busy and it goes by so fast. The stress is felt by her more than me.”

The Sleepy Eye Police Department has six full-time officers and it’s very important that everyone gets along. He says the two jobs are similar in that respect.

“I work with a great police department; we really do take care of each other,” Andres said. “We really do try to help each other, I think that’s the thing I’m most proud of, is that I work with such great officers.”

Of course, Andres has many great co-workers in both fields. But he’s the first to admit he wouldn’t be able to do it without his wife.

“She really does make all of this possible, more than anybody,” he said. “My wife is really the one that lets me do this stuff.”

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