DCC, Rice Begin Following New Leaders

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

August 16, 2017

The Detroit Catholic League football coaching carousel took a few more turns during the offseason, with a pair of programs once led by two of the winningest coaches in state history welcoming new leaders for this fall.

Two former understudies to those longtime mentors now find themselves with the top jobs directing programs that have combined to earn 18 MHSAA Finals championships.

Adam Korzeniewski, 43, is the new coach at Birmingham Brother Rice, replacing Dave Sofran, who replaced legendary coach Al Fracassa after the Warriors won their third consecutive Division 2 title in 2013.

Dan Anderson, 48, is the new coach at Detroit Catholic Central, taking over for recently-retired Tom Mach, who directed the Shamrocks to a Division 1 runner-up finish nine months ago.

“It is daunting,” Anderson said. “You question yourself. Would Tom have done that? You want to keep the tradition alive. I’m not Tom Mach. I can learn from him and put my stamp on it.”

He and Korzeniewski will seek to do so while navigating what continues to be one of the most competitive leagues in the state. Detroit Catholic Central (10), Brother Rice (8) and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (7) have combined to amass 25 MHSAA football titles, while Warren DeLaSalle has added two more.

But when Mach announced his retirement from DCC in February, it continued a recent run of Catholic League Central programs passing the baton. Following the 2015 season Paul Verska – who led DeLaSalle to the 2014 Division 2 title – stepped down from the Pilots, and Mike Giannone left Macomb Dakota to fill Verska’s spot. Fracassa retired after the 2013 season with a record of 430-117-7 since starting at Royal Oak Shrine in 1960 and moving to Brother Rice in 1969; he holds Michigan’s record for most high school football coaching wins, while Mach is third with a record of 370-94 from 1976-2016.

St. Mary’s longtime leader George Porritt (256-71 since 1989) will enter this season as the league’s only coach with more than a year heading up the program at his school.

“I’m not a tight T (formation) guy. But I will run it right at you,” Anderson said in explaining a philosophical similarity to Mach. “And I do run some tight T plays. You can’t get rid of the wham. Tom’s philosophy was defense wins championships. That won’t change while I’m here.”

The wham is a basic run play into the middle of the line, a trademark of Mach’s offense. It’s simple but often effective. Anderson said he will install a multiple offense incorporating formations and plays from a variety of schemes as the Shamrocks look to add to last season's 13-1 run.

Anderson has been well-schooled, at Catholic Central and a number of high schools in Ohio where he grew up, played football and coached. He came to Catholic Central in 1999 as a freshmen coach. The next five seasons he was the head junior varsity coach. In 2005, he became a varsity assistant – and in 2007 he became the defensive coordinator.

Anderson played defensive end and offensive tackle at Archbishop Alter in Kettering, Ohio, located near Dayton. He earned a scholarship to University of Pittsburgh where he played guard and was a starter his junior and senior seasons.

Long before then, he knew he wanted to become a teacher and a coach. A junior high history teacher, who was also a coach, played a major role in Anderson becoming the person he is today.

“He coached me in CYO (Catholic Youth Organization),” Anderson said. “He made a big impression upon me. I was 12 or 13 years old, and I knew then I wanted to teach history and coach.

“I love the game (of football). As soon as I got out of college (1992), I started coaching as a volunteer assistant at Penn Hills (Pa.).”

And he hasn’t stopped coaching since. After leaving Penn Hills, Anderson went to Pomfret, Maryland, located just outside of Washington, D.C., and coached three sports (baseball, basketball and football) at McDonough High. After two years, he went back to his alma mater and spent five years there, the last three as the head football coach. His wife at the time was transferred to General Motors in the Detroit area and, again, Anderson sent out applications and was hired by Catholic Central as a history teacher and football coach.

Anderson said he feels fortunate to be in this position. Learning and having mentors within a parochial school system prepared him for this opportunity and challenge.

“Mach, to me, was a heck of a mentor,” he said. “My high school coach, Ed Domstiz, was one of my mentors, too. And he’s still coaching.

“Tom was laid back. He didn’t take things too seriously. With all of the extracurricular things that go on now, he wanted football to remain a game. That bothered him, the kids jumping from one school to another. To me, high school was a great time, all of the friends that you made. When you move around you miss that.

“For Tom, it was more of his relationships with people. He had the Xs and Os, but it was about building men. That was always an emphasis. You had to develop them into great people. What you saw with Tom is what you got. It was refreshing.”

Though Korzeniewski isn’t directly replacing a legend, Fracassa’s shadow still looms over Brother Rice football; history doesn’t leave us that quickly. Expectations remain high for a program that won three straight Division 2 titles from 2011-13. The Warriors finished 7-4 last fall.

There’s an added unknown for Korzeniewski. He’s never been a head coach before. He’s coached for 17 seasons, including six as Fracassa’s defensive coordinator. The last two seasons Korzeniewski was the defensive coordinator at Birmingham Seaholm, working under his good friend Jim DeWald. The two were teammates at Western Michigan during the mid-1990s.

Korzeniewski’s approach is to keep things simple. He doesn’t see his job as having more pressure than most head coaching positions. As a coach, you teach. For the players, they learn.

“To me, it’s my job,” he said. “I go about it as I would anything else. To other people it would be different. I do my job every day.

“I didn’t come here thinking other people did this or that. It’s the kids. It goes back to why I got into coaching. You see the progress. It’s important to them that they get better. Football is important to them.”

Just as Anderson learned from his predecessor, Korzeniewski has borrowed much from Fracassa.

“I learned the importance of a team,” Korzeniewski said. “Nothing is more important than the team. And there’s something else. He made every player feel a part of the team. He had a way to make kids compete. I wish I could do that.

“What’s important to me is that things get taught and understood. You have to be demanding and supportive. (It’s) the action and reaction.”

Rest assured, both coaches will be watched as if through a microscopic lens. They understand that. They also understand they are heading into once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, and they’re going to make the most of them.

“I’m excited,” Anderson said. “We have a great group of kids. We have a great group of coaches and we’re going to enjoy each other’s company.”

Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Catholic Central's Dan Anderson (left), here coaching the defense during the 2016 Division 1 Final, and Brother Rice's Adam Korzeniewski, the Warriors' defensive coordinator during their 2012 Division 2 title run, are taking over top Detroit Catholic League programs this fall. (Middle) Former Brother Rice coach Al Fracassa (top) retired after the 2013 season, while DCC's Tom Mach stepped down in February. 

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

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)