Behind Scenes, St Mary's Goes to Goddard

September 27, 2016

By Keith Dunlap
Special for Second Half

As a coach and athletic director at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s over nearly three decades, George Porritt has been asked plenty of times to recall details from his football program’s storied past.

That comes with coaching a program that annually has a roster full of highly-touted high school players coveted by college recruiters and has seen the best not only shine for prominent college programs but also NFL organizations (see Allen Robinson of Jacksonville).

“When was the last time a player did that?”

“What is the school record in this category?”

“How often has your team done this in a season?”

“When was the last time you lost to this opponent?”

Porritt’s answer is usually quick and consistent.

“Ask Robin Goddard,” Porritt typically says.

For the past 40 years, turning to Goddard has been a frequent option for anyone around St. Mary’s, and for that matter, other schools around the state.

It is why there will be lots of people in the prep sports community thinking of him when he has surgery on Thursday to break up kidney stones that have been bothering him during recent weeks.

Goddard each year puts together media guides with records and teams at St. Mary’s that go all the way back to the early 1900s. (See "Michigan's Football Past: A Must Read")

He can easily point out the fact that St. Mary’s won a state basketball championship in 1933, lost in the state basketball semifinals in 1919 and won its first state baseball championship in 1913. (Note: The MHSAA was not formed until Dec. 1924; previous championship tournaments were hosted by various entities around the state.) 

“If he doesn’t have it in something, he finds it right away,” Porritt said. “He goes to the library and he tries to dig it up. He calls the other school and has done it for years. He keeps a great history of our school.”

Surely though, there have to be times when people raise their eyebrows at Goddard and wonder how he can possibly get accurate information from a century ago, right?

Actually, not really.

Not around St. Mary’s, anyway, even if it is hard to fathom for many others that high school sports in Michigan actually did exist before the start of World War I.

“I won’t even challenge him,” Porritt said. “I know he found it somewhere. He’ll tell other schools what their records are historically, and they don’t even know what theirs is. He has fun doing it and will go anywhere and find any way to find out the history of whatever he is looking into.”

Goddard’s importance to the school isn’t limited to being arguably the Encyclopedia Britannica of prep sports in the state of Michigan.

Also a facilities coordinator and valuable fundraiser, Goddard has spearheaded projects to put a track and lights at the football field, and was the architect of one of the most ambitious and out-of-box ideas ever seen at the school – the red artificial playing surface now on the football field.

During Labor Day weekend in 2011, Goddard flew to Cheney, Wash., to meet with officials at Eastern Washington University, which at the time had the only red-colored artificial football field in the country.

Goddard picked the brains of the folks at Eastern Washington, came home and started a fundraising effort to try and secure $600,000 to bring a red-colored artificial surface to St. Mary’s.

By the following spring, the funds were raised and construction began on the field that was ready by the start of the 2012 season.

At the time, it was the third red-colored field in the country in addition to Eastern Washington and a high school field at Canyon High School in Texas.

Goddard also helped start the annual Polish Country Fair that takes place on the St. Mary’s campus every Memorial Day weekend, which is one of the most regularly-attended festivals in the Detroit area.

Len Karschnia, an administrator and assistant coach for the both the football and basketball teams at St. Mary’s, said when Goddard gets in touch with alums who have the means to donate back to the school, there usually is no hesitation because of their respect for Goddard.

“They always trust Robin to do that,” Karschnia said. “Everything he does (is) for the kids and the school, and that is why nobody is really reticent to give back to any projects that he runs because if he tells you on Tuesday he wants $500 to put up a banner in the gym, on Thursday the banner is up and done and there is a plaque on the wall saying thanks to whoever gave it to him.”

A staple at the school since he arrived in 1976, there obviously will be a lot of prayers and well-wishes around the state for a speedy recovery from surgery.

“He is a guy that whatever St. Mary’s needs, he’ll do it and he doesn’t need any fanfare for his good deeds,” Karschnia said. “It’s all for the kids, for George and for the school. That is really his value.”

PHOTOS: (Top) Orchard Lake St. Mary's takes on Detroit Cass Tech on its home red turf in 2012. (Middle) Tucked away in the McLane Stadium bleachers, Robin Goddard watches the Eaglets' run to the 2015 Division 2 baseball championship. (Top photo by Terry McNamara.)

Constantine Football All-Stater, Wrestling Champ Aiming for Grand Finale

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

April 30, 2024

CONSTANTINE – Bennett VandenBerg has earned many accolades over the last four years as a three-sport athlete at Constantine.

Southwest CorridorBut the awards aren't what the 6-foot-3, 240-pound standout will remember most when reflecting on his memories as an all-state football player, state champion wrestler and record-breaking throwing specialist on the Falcons' track & field squad.

"I'll remember how I represented our school and pushed myself to be the best I could be in each sport that I played," said VandenBerg, who has earned 12 varsity letters.

VandenBerg has evolved into one of the most accomplished athletes in the state this school year as a senior, especially standing out among those from smaller communities.

This past fall he was named first-team Division 5-6 all-state at defensive end in football before winning the Division 3 Individual Finals wrestling title at 285 pounds in early March at Ford Field.

VandenBerg's final goal is to win the discus title at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals on Saturday, June 1, in Kent City to end his Constantine career all-state in all three sports.

He broke the school record in the discus his junior year with a throw of 158 feet, 1 inch; the previous mark of 156-6 had been held by Doug Polasek since 1986. VandenBerg has eclipsed his school record twice this spring, most recently with a personal-best toss of 170-9 in a Southwestern Athletic Conference double dual meet with Schoolcraft and Kalamazoo Christian. He ranks No. 4 statewide in the event regardless of enrollment division. Lawton junior Mason Mayne at 175-4 is the only Division 3 competitor with a better throw than VandenBerg.

"It's really cool to have your name up on the school record board, but I'd like to make that mark more untouchable before I'm done," VandenBerg said. "My goal is to be a state discus champion. I've put in the necessary work for it. It would be nice to end my career that way."

Kyle Rimer, Constantine's veteran boys track & field coach, is most impressed with VandenBerg's leadership and presence in working with the Falcons' younger athletes.

VandenBerg, top position, battles Wyatt Spalo in their Division championship wrestling match at 285 pounds in March at Ford Field. "Bennett loves to compete. Ever since he was a freshman, we've also had him on our 400-meter relay team. That's something he really enjoys doing. He's not just a thrower, but a good overall athlete with lots of drive,” Rimer said. “There's a lot of individuality in track & field, but I think he does a great job of leading the younger kids. He has the drive, accountability and technique to achieve his goal of being a state champion in his throwing events.”

VandenBerg is already a two-time Finals placer in the discus, earning sixth as a junior and seventh his sophomore year. He admits being a little disappointed with his distance at the 2023 state meet.

"In that particular event (discus) you need lots of focus and determination because there are a ton of tiny things you can mess up on that affect your throw. To become better you need to be consistent, show up every day and be willing to put in the work," VandenBerg said. "Right now I'm working on my speed in the circle and quickness in my follow-through."

VandenBerg also has been pleased with his improvement this spring in the shot put. He's increased his distance by over five feet and hopes to break the school record in that event as well. John Kampars (1967) holds Constantine's shot put record at 54-8¼, and VandenBerg's personal best is 48-10 in a double-dual meet this season against Parchment and Centreville.

"Shot put is a difficult event. You need power, but your form has to be top-notch – otherwise it's tough to move that 12-pound ball," VandenBerg said. "I would love to qualify for state in both the discus and shot put and be all-state in each. That would be amazing if I could be a state champion in either of those events."

VandenBerg has put in extra work in the offseason with special instruction from Bill Griffey of Next Throw in Plainwell, along with working with Constantine assistant track & field and head football coach Shawn Griffith.

"Bennett puts a lot of time into working on his throwing. He spends a lot of time in the weight room, and he's a bigger kid who is not afraid to be coached and listens to what other people tell him," Griffith said. "We're excited to see what he can do now that we've had warmer weather recently."

VandenBerg (34) carries the football during a 2023 regular-season home game against Schoolcraft.VandenBerg's motivation this spring follows a tremendous wrestling season that saw him finish 54-0 and capture the 285 championship with a 3-0 win in the title match over Reed City junior Wyatt Spalo.

"I gained 20 pounds of muscle and did everything you need to do to become a better athlete to wrestle the heavyweight division. Winning the title was overwhelming. It was everything I ever wanted, and the first 20 minutes after winning it was relief, especially after losing in the Finals as a junior. I just went into that last match and wrestled smart and confident," VandenBerg said. "My speed and strength gave me an advantage over the bigger heavyweights I faced this year."

Vandenberg, 188-22 with 104 career pins, became the 10th Finals champion in Constantine wrestling history and the first to achieve the feat since Kevin Watkins won a 152-pound crown in 2000.

VandenBerg competed at 189 as a freshman and sophomore. He was a Regional qualifier as a freshman and finished sixth in Division 3 as a sophomore before ending his junior campaign as the Finals runner-up at 215. 

"Bennett is a competitor who hates to lose, and if he does he learns from it. He had a lot of good practice partners on the team his first three years, and he wasn't going to be denied after losing in the Finals as a junior," said Constantine wrestling coach Dale Davidhizar Jr.

VandenBerg played on Constantine's varsity football team for four years. He got a lot of extra playing time as a freshman when Constantine reached the Division 6 Semifinals during in the COVID-shortened season. He led the Falcons in rushing as a sophomore before switching to tight end as a junior. Out of necessity, VandenBerg returned to lead Constantine in rushing and scoring again as a senior.

"Bennett learned a great deal from the older guys on the team his first three varsity seasons. He learned leadership qualities and is a very unselfish kid who is willing to do what's best for his team," Griffith said.

VandenBerg is most proud of Constantine winning a District crown last fall, especially after his senior class went 0-5-1 as eighth graders. VandenBerg posted 164 solo tackles at defensive end during his final high school season and was Constantine's main offensive weapon with 1,354 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing on 186 carries.

"Winning Districts as seniors in football was a special moment. As eighth graders, we weren't exactly the most athletic team, but we put in the work as we got older to become successful," VandenBerg said.

VandenBerg has been invited to play for the West team at the annual Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's East-West All-Star Game this summer.

College coaches have shown interest in VandenBerg in all three sports, especially football and wrestling. VandenBerg, who carries a cumulative GPA of 3.989 and scored 1110 on his SAT, is weighing his options in athletics but knows he wants to study either ecology or forestry in college.

"I love being outdoors and doing what I love to do," VandenBerg said.

Scott HassingerScott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Constantine’s Bennett VandenBerg competes in the discus during a home meet his junior season. (Middle) VandenBerg, top position, battles Wyatt Spalo in their Division championship wrestling match at 285 pounds in March at Ford Field. (Below) VandenBerg (34) carries the football during a 2023 regular-season home game against Schoolcraft. (Photos by Brandon Watson/Sturgis Journal.)