OAKLAND — It’s a Wednesday night inside the Messalonskee High School gym. On a blue mat on the middle of the floor, teams are getting ready for a wrestling tri-meet. With a crew of 16 wrestlers, Messalonskee hits the mat for warm-ups, prepping to take on both Skowhegan and Mt. Blue.

But before a whistle blared, before a half-nelson was applied, the Eagles had already experienced victory during the 2023-24 season. After years of competing and practicing with other area teams, Messalonskee finally is fielding a standalone program. It holds its own practices and hosts its own meets.

“It’s amazing to finally have a program of our own,” said Messalonskee head coach Pat Engleright. “It’s been a few years in the making. It’s taken a lot of legwork by the kids and a lot of hard work to make this happen. We’ve had a lot of support administration-wise and superintendent-wise across the district to break off on our own.

“It’s really exciting for the kids, we want to be really good right away. But in this sport, that takes a while, (along with) getting the kids more and more experienced. Before long, if they stick with it, we can be a solid team. But we’re going through some growing pains right now.”

In previous years, Messalonskee struggled to field its own team that could compete at duals or tournaments. In 2017, a group of four Eagle wrestlers — Austin Pelletier, John Lujan, Steve Lujan and Grady Reardon — trained and traveled with Skowhegan, while competing as individual wrestlers for Messalonskee. Last season, the Eagles competed as part of a co-op with Cony High School in Augusta.

The surge in the program has been spearheaded by Engleright, who moved to the Oakland area from Colorado five years ago. With previous coaching experience at the youth and middle school level, Engleright has not only pushed the growth of wrestling at the high school level, but also has been intent on building it from the ground up.


“We’re big believers in getting these kids wrestling at an early age,” Engleright said. “We have a good youth program going, we call it the Soaring Eagles wrestling club. We have a middle school team now, last year was the first year with an actual middle school team. We feel like we have a kindergarten through 12th grade program, and if we can keep working and find these kids at an early age, our program will be successful.”

Messalonskee wrestlers warm up before competing against Mt. Blue on Wednesday in Oakland. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

On Wednesday night, Engleright showed an infectious enthusiasm from his coach’s seat at the corner of the mat, jumping out of his seat repeatedly during matches, barking instructions to his wrestlers.

The growth of the program is not a surprise to Mt. Blue coach Mike Hansen and Skowhegan counterpart Tenney Noyes.

“Pat’s done a great job,” Noyes said. “I got the privilege of working of him. At Skowhegan, he and I got to coach the middle school (team) together. It was a half-and-half (team), 14 Skowhegan kids, 14 Messalonskee kids. He’s done a great job growing the numbers, building the interest here, giving opportunities to kids. It’s great to see.”

Added Hansen: “I love that teams like Messalonskee are (growing numbers) and wrestling for their school. It has the pride (that comes with) wrestling for your school. Co-ops, not that it takes away from that, but it’s not the same. It’s a different vibe. You’ve got your school, their school, being together. I like to see a school have their own team.

“Every school has had two or three guys (during a year), and you’ve got to revitalize the program, like Pat’s doing,” Hansen continued. “He’s revitalizing that spirit of the program. That’s what any school needs when they’re starting a program, or trying to bring one back, a new coach that brings that kind of energy. I know he’s doing that here and I love to see it.”


Mason Capeless is Messalonskee’s lone senior, wrestling at 150 pounds. A fan of combat sports, Capeless had never wrestled until this season.

Messalonskee wrestling coach Pat Engleright encourages a wrestler during a match Wednesday in Oakland. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

“I have a lot of stress, so (wrestling) helps me take out my stress,” Capeless said. “I get to have fun with my team. We get to score points. We get to basically fight without having consequences. … It’s a big step up (this season). We never had our own mats; we never had our own program in general. It’s really just a lot of fun to go out there and show that Messalonskee is a big program, and we can come out on top every year.”

A young team, the Eagles have had their fair share of growing pains. But they also showed skill on Wednesday night against the Cougars and River Hawks. Jameson Cerrato, a freshman at 157 pounds, won both of his matches. Logan Campbell, a junior at 144 pounds, was behind early in his match against Skowhegan’s Connor Noyes, but managed to use a reversal to his advantage and win by pinfall with a cradle.

“I think we’re opening some eyes right now,” Engleright said. “We’re winning a few duals here and there. Even in the matches we’re not winning, the kids are competing and showing heart out in those matches.

“It’s really important that not only do we work hard in practice, but these kids need to have a good time with this sport and fall in love with this sport. It’s such a tough sport. If you go too hard and make practice so miserable, you’re not going to be able to hold on to some of these kids. We want to find that balance of making them work hard and getting better, but also enjoying the sport and making it something they fall in love with. Once they fall in love with the sport, they’re going to want to continue it in the future.”

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