A coaching legend is gone
Wayland High School girls’ basketball coaching legend Zack Moushegian died Saturday night after returning from watching a University of Michigan spring football scrimmage. He was 64.
The cause of his death was not immediately reported, but he had suffered from diabetes over the past decade and was confined to a wheelchair. His visitation will be at the Fine Arts Center from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday and the funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, also at the Fine Arts Center.
Moushegian was known statewide as the coach of a Wayland girls’ varsity basketball program that was regarded among the finest in Michigan. Two of his teams made it all the way to the state Class B semifinals, in 1986 and 1989, and his teams won 18 district, five regional and many conference championships.
He retired from coaching in 2000 after 24 seasons, amassing 434 victories, which at that time was the second highest in the state, an astonishing average of 18 per year.
“I had a lot of great talent that made me look good,” he quipped during an interview last winter. “My only regret in looking back is that we got very close to the mountaintop, but we never made it there.”
A native of Allen Park on the east side of the state, Zack earned his bachelor’s degree from Grand Valley State College (now University) in 1969 and he landed a sixth grade teaching position in Wayland during the 1970-71 academic year. He was the son-in-law of longtime Wayland High School French, language arts and history teacher Viola Carroll.
He started to coach middle school boys’ basketball and was asked to guide the girls’ junior varsity team in the fall of 1975 because no one else wanted the job. The varsity that year was 1-20 and he applied in August 1976 to become the new head varsity coach. The turnaround was almost instantaneous. His first squad went 13-6 and the following season made it to the regional finals.
Girls’ basketball only a couple of years before had used the standing guard (defense only) concept and the girls were allowed to dribble the ball only three times before being required to pass.
“In our generation, we didn’t assume that girls could be athletes,” Moushegian confessed. “I was a supporter of women’s rights, but I just didn’t think very many girls, except maybe a few tomboys, wanted to or could play sports like guys. I just didn’t think of girls as athletes.”
Everything changed in 1973 when Title IX was instituted, insisting girls be allowed to play the same game as boys and that they be allowed to use comparable facilities. The revolution went even further in 1975 when the Michigan High School Athletic Association held its first-ever girls state basketball championships much in the same way boys had theirs.
Wayland at first was slow to make the transition, but Moushegian took over the program and had what he called an epiphany when his players asked him to treat them just like guys.
After he graduated from GVSC, he married his college sweetheart, Judy Carroll, He taught at Wayland for nearly 40 years at Pine Street, Steeby and Wayland Middle School, and retired just a couple of years ago.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy for him since then was the death of his wife, of ovarian cancer. She also had been a teacher and a ringleader of the social aspects of building a girls’ basketball program from scratch.
Zack had been living at his home with daughter Jennifer, principal at Pine Street Elementary, which was the high school when Zack first came to Wayland and later the middle school. His other daughter, Tamara, lives in East Grand Rapids with her husband, an architect.
Moushegian took particular satisfaction that some of his players furthered their athletic careers in college, including Angie Farmer at Bowling Green State University, Jenny Ritz at Central Michigan, Coralie Ritz and Ann Iciek at Hillsdale College, Coralynn Meyerink at Lake Superior State University, Kara Potter and Kim Miller at Grand Rapids Community College, Julie Ainsworth at Morehead State, Nikki Merchant at Ferris State University and Kelly Goodwin and Jackie Keizer at Kalamazoo Valley Community College and Olivet College.
One of his players, Missy Bratsburg, didn’t go to college to play ball, but did become a doctor, he noted proudly.
Another, Coralie Ritz Miller, succeeded him as Wayland girls’ varsity coach and guided the ‘Cats to a conference title in 2005 and a district title in 2006 before stepping aside in 2010.
"The best coach I ever had," Miller said on Facebook Sunday. "The Legend (name given by sports writer Mick McCabe of the Detroit Free Press), best storyteller of all time, supporter of all girl athletes... so thankful for him... I love you, Zack.
"You empowered a generation of girls to become the best they could be."
Tom Miller, whose daughter Kim was an all-state performer on the 1986 team, said, "I had many good times with him at the Auction House Cafe, at WHS Basketball games and especially when my daughters Kim and Tammy played basketball under his coaching. Zack was such a great teacher, both in the classroom and on the basketball court, bringing out the very best in his students and girl basketball players."
Moushegian said he prided himself on getting the most out of his players while at the same time understanding they are fellow human beings. He followed the Wayland girls’ basketball team’s successes this past winter, winning their first regional title since 1989, and had high praise for coach Marty Howard and his athletes.
Though he will always be remembered for coaching, Zack still regards himself more as a teacher.
“I was into the coaching, but you have to teach the kids the skills and get the kids to learn,” he said.
(For more information about the life and legend of Zack Moushegian, there was a three-part series published here in March during the Wildcats’ tournament)
PHOTO: Zack Mousegian