Feb. 3—MAPLE CITY — Showing support for school athletic programs is nothing new for the Glen Lake community.
And the Lakers' faithful have welcomed back another team this winter that's earning those cheers for the first time in more than 20 years.
That's because wrestling hasn't been offered at Glen Lake High School since 2001. But it's back now, and quickly gaining momentum at a school known in part for its longstanding athletic success.
Nobody understands all of this more than Liz Moeggenberg, perhaps the most decorated athlete in the school's history. As Liz Shimek and a graduate of the class of 2002, she was the winner of the statewide Miss Basketball Award. Her senior year also was the last that Glen Lake offered wrestling before the program returned this winter.
She went on to Michigan State University where she was a two-time All-American. She led the Spartans to the 2005 NCAA championship game and later played in the WNBA. At MSU, she met her future husband, Luke, who was a wrestler for the Spartans.
The Moeggenbergs returned to the Glen Lake area after college and Liz's professional and international basketball career. Today, the Moeggenbergs have five children — three of whom are competitive wrestlers. And Luke is the Lakers' head wrestling coach.
Liz, who served as the Lakers assistant basketball coach for years leading up to last season's Division 4 championship run, was in an unfamiliar place — the bleachers — when Glen Lake hosted its first wrestling match in decades on Jan. 24. The long-awaited moment featured Frankfort, Mancelona and Grayling in a quad meet.
"The community support has been pretty phenomenal," Liz said. "It was amazing to see all the people that came out to that first home meet, and it was pretty cool to see that energy in the gym."
Luke Moeggenberg wrestled in high school for Shepherd and was the Division 3 runner-up at 140 pounds in 2001 before going on to compete at MSU. He started the Glen Lake youth program a few years back and had dreams and hopes of starting a varsity program.
Originally the Moeggenbergs joined the Benzie County youth program. They wrestled there until they had enough wrestlers to start one for Glen Lake. The Lakers launched both a middle school and varsity program this winter.
For years, the young Moeggenberg wrestlers — Lamdin, 12, Fletcher, 10 and Cade, 8 — traveled for practices and competitions with their father, who recalls some very special times. The car rides regularly included discussions on how the boys and their youth teammates might impact the future of Glen Lake sports.
"The question would come up from my three boys, 'When are we going to get wrestling at Glen Lake?'" Coach Moeggenberg recalled. "I said, 'Actually, if we were ever to get wresting at Glen Lake, it would be because of you guys.' And all the three boys, they just got quiet."
Coach Moeggenberg noted it may be years before the boys fully comprehend what they helped start.
"It got pretty emotional when wrestling got voted in by the school board," he said. "I still don't think the boys realize what they've done."
The interest shown in wrestling by their oldest son, Lamdin, now a sixth-grader on the middle school team, sparked the effort to bring wrestling back to the school's athletic offerings.
Also helping provide momentum was Josh Bullard, who comes from a long line of outstanding Bullard wrestlers in Shepherd's history. He's been a big help to Moeggenberg since getting his two sons involved way back in the Benzie travel days. Greg Ford and Kaleb Foss serve as youth coaches, and Moeggenberg has built a varsity staff including assistants Ethan Smith, Jaime Smith and Lance Bies. Ethan Smith is the middle school coach as well.
"I made it pretty clear if we're going to get a program going I need everybody's support and everybody to buy in and give it a chance," Moeggenberg said.
Administrative changes played a big role in Glen Lake bringing back wrestling, Moeggenberg noted. Of particular significance was Jaimie Smith coming aboard as the Lakers' athletic director. Smith, who now serves as the high school principal, was Frankfort's wrestling coach previously. Her husband Ethan was previously an assistant coach at Frankfort and Traverse City Central.
The Smiths' adopted daughter, Emily Alaimo, is one of 13 student-athletes on the roster. Alaimo, a junior, entered the season as the only Glen Lake competitor with high school wrestling experience. She was a part of the Frankfort program when her parents coached, and then on last year's Glen Lake championship basketball team.
"Emily is the only one who's had experience competing at all," Moeggenberg said. "She has really been our most successful wrestler."
The Lakers competed Saturday in the Highland/Mid Michigan Conference Tournament against Evart, Lake City, Manton, Mancelona, Roscommon, LeRoy Pine River, Kingsley, Benzie Central, McBain, Frankfort and Houghton Lake. The squad is led by freshman Abraham Feeney (132 pounds) and sophomore Caden Sheehan (138). Feeney is leading the team in wins, and Sheehan joined the Lakers after the holiday break. They are practice partners.
"Those kids go 100 percent every day in practice, and it shows when they get into competition," Moeggenberg said. "They figured out amongst themselves what it takes to be successful already."
Conference titles and postseason accomplishments are not yet on the Lakers' radar. They are taking this process one day at a time while learning how to compete on the mat safely.
"My focus has been really trying to get our team into a position where they are safe to compete," the first-year coach said. "When you're talking three months of wrestling experience to this point and you are competing against kids that have maybe been wrestling 12 years, our focus has been getting our kids to compete with a little bit of confidence and in a safe manner."
Glen Lake has a rich history of success that includes MHSAA state finals titles in sports like football, basketball, soccer, softball and track. The gym is full of banners recognizing those accomplishments.
There also is a banner recognizing Lakers with individual state wrestling titles, and Coach Moeggenberg is expecting the other sports' successes to bode well for the restarted wrestling program.
"All the past successes and the current successes of our sports programs reflect heavy community support of student-athletes," he said. "That basically makes the coach's job easier.
"Having the support of the community and the support of the administration, ultimately it allows you to focus on what's important — teaching student-athletes," he continued. "It is helping us to create a good foundation for a successful program in the future."
The measurement for success right now is simply experience and daily individual improvement.
"The kids know what this does for the community and what it has done for our family," Coach Moeggenberg said. "I don't want our kids to have their mindset to be on wins and losses and conference titles and district championships.
"I want their mindset to be on progress every match," he continued. "As we get more experience and have some of our middle school kids who are products of our youth program with some more mat time, it will start to evolve into more of a competitive-based goal."