A Game for Every Fan - District Openers

October 25, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

What started as more than 600 MHSAA football teams is down to a mere 272.

And eight are no doubt enjoying a whirlwind this week they've never experienced before.

Detroit Consortium, Detroit East English, Grand Rapids Northview, Mayville, Saginaw Valley Lutheran, South Lyon East, Swartz Creek and Walled Lake Northern will make their first playoff appearances this weekend. Only East English can claim to know what that's like, with the first-year school made up mostly of students who formerly attended now-closed Detroit Crockett and Finney.

In case you're wondering, that leaves 30 schools that have never made the MHSAA playoffs. But this week is about those still alive -- and 136 games that will be played all over the state.

See below for a few of the most intriguing matchups from each division. Visit the MHSAA Score Center all weekend for updated scores and standings, and if you're not attending a game tonight, make sure to check in at FoxSportsDetroit.com for one of four live-streamed contests: Lapeer West at DeWitt, Farmington Hills Harrison at Fenton, Leslie at Portland and Howell at Walled Lake Northern.

Division 1

Detroit Catholic Central (5-4) at Hartland (8-1)

To no one’s surprise, reigning MHSAA runner-up Detroit Catholic Central made the playoffs at 5-4, thanks to its tough schedule and high playoff point average. The Shamrocks have reached the postseason 16 of the last 18 seasons. Hartland is back for the third time in five – and coming off a league title, can also tie its school record for wins set in 2008.

Others that caught my eye: Grand Ledge (7-2) at Holland West Ottawa (7-2), Livonia Stevenson (6-3) at Livonia Churchill (9-0), Canton (6-3) at Plymouth (7-2), Dearborn (6-3) at Dearborn Fordson (7-2).

Division 2

Birmingham Brother Rice (7-2) at Port Huron (7-2)

The reigning MHSAA runner-up in this division, Brother Rice didn’t make last week’s Catholic League Prep Bowl but has been considered among the state’s handful of elite teams since the first week of practice. Port Huron hasn’t gotten nearly the same hype, but won two playoff games last season and is led by quarterback Mark Chapman – who has committed to sign with Central Michigan this winter.

Others that caught my eye: Wyandotte Roosevelt (8-1) at Brownstown Woodhaven (8-1), Detroit Martin Luther King (6-3) at Southfield (6-3), Portage Central (6-3) at Portage Northern (7-2), Grand Rapids Northview (7-2) at Lowell (7-2).

Division 3

Zeeland West (6-3) at Zeeland East (9-0)

It’s hard to believe it’s been two months since these two squared off for what ended up a 60-52 East win. The Chix have continued to rise, and now look like the favorite in Division 3 after downing Muskegon by a point last week. But West – last season’s Division 4 champion – knows a few things about winning in the playoffs, and would love nothing better than to end its rival’s season abruptly.

Others that caught my eye: Carleton Airport (6-3) at Milan (9-0), Marysville (6-3) at Detroit East English (7-2), Charlotte (6-3) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (7-2), Fruitport (8-1) at Grand Rapids Christian (8-1).

Division 4

Williamston (6-3) at Marshall (6-3), Saturday

It hasn’t been long enough for Williamston supporters to forget the 2009 District Final between these two, a 27-26 Marshall win after which the Redhawks went on to win the Division 4 championship. The Hornets advanced to the Final the next season before falling by four to Grand Rapids Catholic Central. Both won to set up this week’s opportunity – the Redhawks their last two games and Williamston its last three.

Others that caught my eye: Otsego (6-3) at Dowagiac (9-0), Comstock Park (8-1) at Allendale (8-1), Saginaw Valley Lutheran (6-3) at Saginaw Swan Valley (7-2), Richmond (6-3) at Marine City (8-1).

Division 5

Leslie (8-1) at Portland (8-1)

Both have become staples of the postseason – Leslie is in the playoffs for the ninth time in 13 seasons and Portland for the 10th straight. The difference for the Blackhawks is those previous appearances, including a run to Ford Field in 2008, came in Division 6. Portland is arguably more used to this level of competition – and has wins over Division 3 playoff teams Owosso, DeWitt and Charlotte this fall.

Others that caught my eye: Lake Fenton (7-2) at Jackson Lumen Christi (8-1), Buchanan (7-2) at Muskegon Oakridge (9-0), Grand Rapids West Catholic (6-3) at Hopkins (9-0), Carrollton (8-1) at Frankenmuth (9-0).

Division 6

Detroit Consortium (6-3) at Madison Heights Madison (8-1)

In its fourth season, Consortium earned its first winning record and first playoff berth. The Cougars earned the opportunity to face Madison, a playoff veteran with eight straight appearances and four straight seasons with at least eight wins. The Eagles built their record against a number of much larger schools, with their only loss by three to Warren Fitzgerald way back on Aug. 31.

Others that caught my eye: Maple City Glen Lake (8-1) at Boyne City (8-1), Montague (8-1) at Hemlock (8-1), Constantine (7-2) at Watervliet (8-1), Michigan Center (8-1) at Grass Lake (8-1).

Division 7

Royal Oak Shrine (5-4) vs. Detroit Loyola (9-0), Saturday at U-D Jesuit

It’s easy to predict Loyola will finish this season with a championship after advancing to the Regional round in 2011 and running all over everyone but Catholic League rival Waterford Our Lady this fall (the Bulldogs beat the Lakers by only 10). Shrine lost to Loyola 51-20 just two weeks ago – but the Knights closed with a shutout of playoff qualifier Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett and could make this rematch much closer.

Others that caught my eye: Union City (6-3) at Pewamo-Westphalia (6-3), Bridgman (6-3) at Lawton (8-1), Dansville (7-2) at Ottawa Lake Whiteford (8-1), Flint Hamady (6-3) at Burton Bendle (7-2).

Division 8

St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic (7-1) at Climax-Scotts (9-0)

A win would give Climax-Scotts its fourth straight 10-win season and ninth over the last decade – and only Bellevue got within 20 points of the Panthers during the regular season. But Lake Michigan Catholic quietly has made the playoffs three straight years, and actually has eight wins this fall – it beat rival Michigan Lutheran in an 8-player game that did not count toward its 11-player playoff point average.

Others that caught my eye: Bessemer (6-2) at Felch North Dickinson (8-0), Pittsford (7-2) at Waterford Our Lady (7-2), Stephenson (7-2) at Pickford (7-2), Crystal Falls Forest Park (7-2) at L’Anse (7-2).


Akron-Fairgrove (7-2) at Owendale-Gagetown (7-2)

These two have been rivals going back to nearly their beginnings on the football field and long before they became 8-player programs in 2009. Both play in the Mid-Michigan 8-Man League, and this is the third time they’ll play each other this season. And there’s some intrigue in that – Owendale-Gagetown won the first game, but Akron-Fairgrove won the second, which counted toward the league standings and eventually gave the Vikings the championship.

Others that caught my eye: Waldron (6-3) at Battle Creek St. Philip (6-3), Eben Junction Superior Central (6-2) at Rapid River (7-2).

PHOTO: Saginaw Valley Lutheran quarterback Logan Gatza drops back to pass against Ithaca on Sept. 7. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com)

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.)