Whitefish Bay coach resurrects program
Once near the brink of being dropped for lack of participation, Bay's team builds toward state berths
Whitefish Bay — When Dale Loebel came to Whitefish Bay to coach the wrestling program in 2006-07, there was almost no program to take over.
"At the end of the 05-06 season," said Blue Dukes Athletic Director John Gustavson, "there were only two wrestlers who finished. One graduated and the other didn't come back the following season.
"He had no returning wrestlers at all coming in."
Fast-forward to last week, when the Loebel-led Blue Dukes, whom Gustavson called "the Pied-Piper of Bay wrestling," filled all 14 weight classes against Milwaukee Lutheran and not only beat the Red Knights but also Cedarburg to finish up with a winning mark of 4-3 in North Shore Conference duals.
"I can't say enough about the job he has done," said Homestead coach Barry Bernstein, who was a Blue Dukes coach himself many years ago before making a name for himself at Germantown. "They fill the weight classes, there are more JV matches. He and his kids have really won me over."
Not that it has been easy.
"This is the first time in at least 10 years that we had a winning record," Loebel said. "Our kids have worked extremely hard to put Whitefish Bay's wrestling program on the map. Four years ago, it easily could have been shut down. I am so proud of this entire group. In a school where wrestling was nothing, it has become relevant because of the 20-plus kids we have in the room every day."
"I joke about pizza parties and dodge ball, but to be truthful, our practices are a grind. Every year a kid tells me that wrestling is the hardest thing he has ever done. We pride ourselves on our work ethic, and we take that as a compliment. We may not be the most talented team, but we will outwork you."
And the work ethic is what has impressed Gustavson, Bernstein and others.
"He (Loebel) got engaged with the youth program and he energized the middle school program and more importantly, he got the parents involved," Gustavson said. "Those things had always been fairly solid, but now he's stopped the attrition (when the kids move up to high school).
"We could have gone co-op (with another school to improve numbers) but Dale didn't want that."
Before Loebel arrived, the Blue Dukes did have a co-op program with Dominican, but it failed for lack of participation.
And though the Bay numbers are not world-beating (mid-20s on good days), they are stable and light years from where they were four years ago.
"When you go through a long season in the winter and you lose only one or two kids (like Loebel's done), you can see that they're engaged (with the sport)," said Gustavson.
Loebel said he gets a lot of help in that regard.
"I am so appreciative of the people behind the scenes who aren't getting the credit they deserve," he said. "Scott Adkins has turned into an outstanding assistant, who could be a head coach somewhere if he wanted to. Without (youth coaches) Rick Davey and Jon Lehrmann, and those who got the kids and middle school program running, we'd be a shadow of our current team.
"Without them, Bay wrestling might have withered away."
But it hasn't.
Bay will look to legitimize the winning dual record with a top four finish in the league tournament at Cedarburg on Saturday. Multi-time defending champion Port Washington is a heavy favorite with a hard-charging Germantown team close behind.
A good fairy-tale finish later this month for Bay would be a couple of state tournament qualifiers.
Luke Davey, who has been a four-year wrestler and who has fought through one injury after another, would be a good fit there and so would the team's top wrestler, Jake Beckert, who was having a sensational 2008-09 campaign before he missed the second half of the season because he went on a study program to Israel.
Bay has had just four state qualifiers since 1999 and none since John Dang in 2005.
"Wrestling is not a sport kids gravitate to at Bay," said Gustavson. "It needs someone strong to bring it along. He (Loebel) has done that."
"God, somebody has to write something about the job Dale has done," said former long-time Homestead coach Ernie Millard, who's still closely linked to the Highlanders team. "He's just resurrected that program out there."
Back on the map
Blue Dukes look for a good finish at North Shore Conference meet
BAY STATE QUALIFIERS THIS DECADE: 2002 - Starr Moss at 103 pounds and Drew Schmidt at 130; 2004 - Geoff Horton at 119; 2005 - John Dang at 125
NUMBER OF FRESHMEN AND SOPHOMORES ON THE TEAM: 15
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