A Game for Every Fan: Week 1

August 23, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

A few scenarios remain unique to high school football’s opening weekend, the newest of which begins again tonight all over Michigan.

If the casual fan with no ties to a particular team is going to check out a game, this is probably the time.

And while there are great matchups and major storylines all nine weeks of the regular season, this first one features so many that East Grand Rapids vs. Grand Rapids Catholic Central – which eventually could be remembered as one of the best games in the state this entire season – arguably isn’t the biggest this weekend in the Grand Rapids area alone.

Each week, Second Half will give you an idea of top games to watch near your community, or the extended surrounding area. 

I’ve broken down the state into seven regions – hopefully you’ll be able to figure out which is where by the nicknames, or at least the games I’ve listed under each. I’ve done so by where the game will be played.

Click on Score Center to see game dates and times, and after the clocks run out, final scores from all over the state.

Greater Detroit                                                         

Detroit Cass Tech vs. Birmingham Brother Rice

This Saturday night matchup is the final game of the Prep Kickoff Classic at Wayne State, which will host six Detroit-area matchups on opening weekend. And it will be tough for any game before November at Ford Field to match the prestige of this opener featuring the reigning MHSAA Division 1 and 2 champions. The last time Cass Tech quarterback Jayru Campbell dressed for the Technicians, he threw five touchdown passes as a freshman in last fall’s Division 1 Final win over Detroit Catholic Central. Brother Rice quarterback Cheyne Lacanaria also is back after leading the Warriors to the Division 2 title, although they must replace graduated standout running back Devin Church. But Brother Rice can counter Campbell and an offense loaded with Division I college prospects with linebacker Jon Reschke, who has committed to Michigan State.

Others that caught my eye: Midland at Canton, Dearborn Fordson at Macomb Dakota, Warren DeLaSalle at Ann Arbor Pioneer, Bloomfield Hills Andover at Bloomfield Hills Lahser, Rochester Adams at Clarkston.

Southwest and Border

Battle Creek Central at Kalamazoo Central

This is one of the longest-running football rivalries in MHSAA history and will move into a tie for eighth all-time with this 109th straight meeting. Battle Creek Central leads the series 59-45-4, although Kalamazoo Central won 28-22 last fall. The Bearcats are hoping to open with their first win since 2010, while the Maroon Giants have gone 4-5 in each of the last four seasons and hope to push for their first playoff berth since 2004.

Others that caught my eye: Carleton Airport at Adrian, St. Joseph at Marshall, Portage Central at Battle Creek Harper Creek.


Pewamo-Westphalia at Lansing Catholic

While the Saturday night game in Detroit features two teams that won titles at Ford Field last season, this matchup features two teams that finished as runners-up in their respective divisions – Division 7 and Division 5 – and are hoping to get back to Detroit with much different lineups. Both graduated standout quarterbacks and their best defenders from 2011, but both also will test new players early and often against top competition. Each plays in a tough league and will also face a reigning MHSAA champion later this fall. The Cougars get Division 7 champ Saginaw Nouvel next week, and the Pirates finish the regular season against Division 8 winner Mendon.

Others that caught my eye: Brighton at Novi, Jackson Lumen Christi at Chelsea, Mount Pleasant at DeWitt, Mendon at Fowler.

West Michigan

Lowell at Rockford

Last season, these two renewed a rivalry that previously had ended in 1973, before the playoff era had begun. These days, the Red Arrows and Rams are two of the state’s annual elite. Lowell won the 2011 game 28-7 on the way to its sixth straight season with at least 10 victories and the runner-up finish in Division 2. But Rockford won 11 straight after last season’s loss, and similarly has won at least that many games in seven of the last eight seasons.

Others that caught my eye: Grand Rapids Catholic Central at East Grand Rapids, Holt at Hudsonville, Orchard Lake St. Mary at Muskegon.

Bay and Thumb

Richmond at Marine City

New Marine City coach Ronald Glodich begins a new era but with hopes of similar success as had by retired coach Anthony Scarcelli, who led the Mariners to eight straight seasons of at least 10 wins and last season’s Division 4 runner-up finish. But Glodich will start with an immediate test in Richmond, which is coming off two straight losing seasons but improved by three wins from 2010 to 2011 and before the down streak made the playoffs 10 times in 11 seasons. 

Others that caught my eye:  Saginaw Swan Valley at St. Charles, Bay City Western at Flint Northern, Montrose at Reese.

Upper Peninsula

Ishpeming at Iron Mountain

There was a not-so-recent past when Ishpeming struggled to win this annual opening night matchup – Iron Mountain has been the victor in 15 of the last 20. But these two have split the last four openers, and both won District championships last season after Iron Mountain won and Ishpeming finished second in the Mid-Peninsula Athletic Conference.

Others that caught my eye: Detroit Denby at Marquette, Ishpeming Westwood at Stephenson, Pittsford at Iron River West Iron County.

Lower Up North

Traverse City St. Francis at Kingsley

Traverse City St. Francis isn’t in a league this season, but is playing six of the same opponents as in 2011 – when it advanced to a Division 7 Semifinal. The Gladiators open against Kingsley after beating the Stags 57-8 in last season’s opener. But Kingsley won six of its next eight games after that loss to make the playoffs, and were only a combined 12 points from an 8-1 finish.

Others that caught my eye: Elk Rapids at Mancelona, Manistee at Ludington, St. Ignace at Charlevoix.

PHOTO: Mendon and Fowler played for last season's Division 8 championship at Ford Field, and meet again Friday at Fowler in the season opener for both. (See more at Terry McNamara Photography.)

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.)