Bruce Bittenbender retires from Lakeshore wrestling job

It’s the end of an era in Southwest Michigan wrestling.

In fact, it’s even the end of an era in the state of Michigan wrestling.

Veteran Lakeshore trainer Bruce Bittenbender hands over the keys to the wrestling room.

Bittenbender has coached the Lancers for 52 years. More than half a century. But, now 75, Bittenbender decided it was time to spend more time with his wife, Susan, and the rest of his family.

“We have a good guy to take over (Ryan Quinn),” Bittenbender said. “I’m confident the program is in good shape. I have a window into what I can do and what I can’t do. My wife has had health issues and I have grandchildren who are dying. more actively involved in sports. I can spend time traveling and spending time with the grandchildren and enjoying my remaining years. I plan to help where they need me, but I don’t have to commit to being there every day. You must be a true saint to be a wrestling coach’s wife with time. And my wife was. I feel great and I might come back for another year But I think it’s time to take a step back and spend some time with my wife and my family.

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Bittenbender leaves quite a legacy. His career double meet record was 981-270-2. The dual contest wins are the most in state history and the second-highest total nationally. The Lancers posted undefeated double-meet seasons in 1976, 1978, 1984, and 1986. His teams won 33 conference titles, 28 district championships, 13 regional crowns, and finished second in the state twice in 1986 and 1994. Under Bittenbender’s leadership, Lakeshore won 109 invitational championships, including 25 Berrien County Invitationals (which began in 1982).

Bittenbender was named Regional Coach of the Year 11 times, South Bend Tribune Coach of the Year in 2009, and WSJM Coach of the Year in 2010. He was named Michigan Wrestling Coach of the Year by the Coaches Association in 2002 and was selected as National Coach of the Year by the National High School Coaches Association in 2010. Bittenbender was inducted into the Michigan Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2010 and the National Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2011. He has was inducted into the Pennsylvania Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2012, the Milligan University Athletic Hall of Fame in 2017, and the Lakeshore Athletic Hall of Fame in 2019.

Lakeshore wrestling coach Bruce Bittenbender.  Dave Witham Picture/Sports 02/12/03

Individually, Bittenbender’s wrestlers have placed 116 times in the state with 26 state championships, crowned this winter when Micah Hanau, Zamuel Thompson and Aaron Lucio were all state champions.

And what will he miss the most? Obviously the children.

“I loved what I was doing for 53 years (including a year in South Haven),” Bittenbender said. “I will miss the contact with the kids. When you have a state champion, you have to do something right. And I think our 26 state champions could be as many as the rest of Southwest Michigan combined. I feel like I’ve helped these kids from the brink I’ve helped them stay out of trouble and hopefully improve their lives Many of them have become homeowners. “successful businesses and have done well in the outside world. They have become good fathers and good family members. And many have become sponsors of our wrestling program and have been very generous in helping us.

But a lot has changed in Bittenbender’s 52 years at Lakeshore.

“When I was first hired at Lakeshore, teachers were hired and they all wanted to see what they could coach in a school,” Bittenbender said. “Now the teachers are beating the kids out of school at 3 p.m. The parents have changed. The kids have changed. But I never changed. I did it my way. I never varied .I came into the wrestling room with a plan.There’s no easy way if you want to succeed.If you’re not in good shape you’re going to get beaten in the third period by someone who’s maybe less athletic, but in better shape. But the biggest change has been the school of choice. Every school has become a Catholic school. Catholic schools used to be accused of recruiting. Now everyone can recruit if he wishes.

The other big change is the drop in registrations. Bittenbender said when he started, the threshold for Class A in Michigan was 1,450 students. The latest digits have this figure at 814.

Bruce and Susan Bittenbender have two children, Brett, 49, director of projects for Consumers Power in Grand Haven, and Theresa, 47, married to JP Morgan’s vice president of global investments. They also have three grandchildren.

And they’ll all see a lot more Bruce now.

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