By Paul Leighton
BEVERLY — When a woman walked into the Beverly Republican City Committee headquarters on Cabot Street last week, she was greeted by a clean-cut young man eager to answer her questions.
"Are you Brett Sheet-zel?" she asked, struggling to pronounce the name.
"Schetzsle," he responded. "Rhymes with 'pretzel.'"
If Brett Schetzsle has his way, voters won't need any word association games to recognize his name on the ballot Nov. 2.
The 33-year-old Indiana native is literally working full time in his quest to become Beverly's first Republican state representative in 20 years. He has taken unpaid leave from his job as a marketing executive with the Gillette Co. and has raised nearly as much money as his Democratic opponent, Jerry Parisella.
Schetzsle spends so much time in the Republican campaign office that he has set up a portable crib for his 10-month-old twin daughters.
"I'm lucky I've got a very supportive wife. She agreed to allow me to turn my life upside down," he said. "At no point in my life did I think I would be running for state representative in Beverly, Massachusetts. I'm glad the way it turned out. It feels very comfortable."
Schetzsle said he grew up "apolitical" in Indiana, first in Lafayette and then in Vincennes, a town of 25,000 on the Indiana/Illinois border. He was the oldest of four children in what he describes as a one-income middle class family. His father, Bob, was a manufacturing manager and his mother, Jenny, was a stay-at-home mom.
Schetzsle recalls a youth filled with sports — football in the fall, basketball in the winter, baseball in the spring. He was a three-year starter at quarterback for Vincennes Lincoln High School and played three years of college football at DePauw University in Indiana.
Life in the baseball minors
In his senior year, with an eye toward establishing a career, he gave up football and went to work for the campus radio station. The day after he graduated, he drove to Jamestown, N.Y., to take a job as the radio announcer for the Jamestown Jammers minor league baseball team. He spent the next three years, including one season with a team in Wichita, Texas, announcing games, but the 12-hour bus trips through Louisiana and Arkansas and Oklahoma took their toll.
"For three hours a day (during the games) I wouldn't have traded places with anyone," he said. "But minor league baseball is a tough grind."
He returned to Indiana and joined the Boilermaker Sports Network, working as a sideline reporter for Purdue University football games and doing the halftime, pre-game and post-game shows. Along the way he earned a master's in business administration at Purdue.
Tim Newton, who was the producer of the football broadcasts and is now the play-by-play announcer, said Schetzsle was persistent in both his radio work and his pursuit of an MBA.
Newton said Schetzsle never discussed politics, so he was surprised when he learned he was running for office in Massachusetts.
"But he's always been a pretty strong-willed person, so from a personalty standpoint it didn't surprise me," Newton said. "As I thought about it, I knew he was the kind of guy who could run for office and stand up to the scrutiny and not back down from a challenge."
Schetzsle said he loved broadcasting, but knew it was a difficult industry to crack. After earning his MBA, he was hired by Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati as a consumer marketing manager.
When Procter & Gamble bought Gillette in 2005, Schetzsle took a job with Gillette. He and his wife, Kelly, moved to Boston and eventually to Beverly.
"As soon as we got here we loved it," Schetzsle said. "We knew this was home."
Trying to catch a wave
Inspired by John McCain's presidential campaign, Schetzlse became involved in politics for the first time in 2008. He joined the Beverly Republican City Committee, helped open a campaign office in downtown Beverly and began advocating for more active local participation in a state that has been dominated by Democrats.
"He was great at reaching out in the community," Beverly Republican City Committee Chairman Andrew Channell said. "He was so sincerely energized by the need to get the party up and running."
Schetzsle said he met with some of the city's Republican leaders to see if anyone would challenge Mary Grant, the incumbent Democratic state representative who ran unopposed in 2008.
"There were no takers," he said. "I said, alright, if nobody else is going to do it, I'm going to do it."
Schetzsle acknowledges that he began the race well behind Parisella in name recognition. Parisella, a lawyer, is making his first run for public office, but he's a Beverly native from a large extended family with deep ties in the city.
Schetzsle appears unfazed by the challenge. He has studied previous elections and expects approximately 17,000 people to vote.
"You can't get to 8,501 on family and friends alone," he said. "We know how many votes we need to get, and we're going to find those people who are already predisposed to thinking like I do on the issues and are just happy to have a choice."
"If I win this race," Schetzsle added, "there's going to be a lot of long-time establishment Beverly people who wake up and say, 'Wait a minute, I don't know anybody who voted for this guy.'"
No Republican has won the state rep seat in Beverly since Jim Henry in 1990, and he was knocked out two years later by Democrat Mike Cahill. Cahill and then Grant have held the seat ever since.
Beverly has more than twice as many Democrats as Republicans, but Schetzsle is banking on the city's large number of unenrolled voters — 14,679, more than the two parties combined — to join his side.
He pointed to the fact the Republican Scott Brown got 55 percent of the vote in Beverly in his U.S. Senate victory over Democrat Martha Coakley in January.
"I was watching a surfing competition on TV the other day and the announcer said, 'You have to have good surfing skills, but you also have to have a really good wave,'" Schetzsle said. "There is a sense that the wave is out there."
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.