A Game for Every Fan: Week 3

September 11, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Gone is the rain (at least, apparently, for this week). But here comes the storm of league play. 

By the end of this weekend, all but a handful of conferences schedules will be underway.

Some of the best league openers highlight the most significant games in the state this week:

West Michigan

Lowell (2-0) at East Grand Rapids (2-0)

After two uncharacteristic seasons of finishing a combined 9-9, East Grand Rapids looks on the way back up with wins over two teams – Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Ottawa Hills – that finished above .500 in 2013. The Pioneers played another strong Lowell team to within three points just a year ago, and the Red Arrows again look like favorites in the ultra-competitive Ottawa-Kent White after two wins against out-of-state opponents to open this fall.

Others that caught my eye: Grand Rapids West Catholic (2-0) at Ada Forest Hills Eastern (2-0), Muskegon Reeths-Puffer (2-0) at Grand Haven (2-0), Grand Rapids South Christian (0-2) at Hudsonville Unity Christian (2-0), Muskegon Mona Shores (2-0) at Rockford (2-0).


Lansing Sexton (2-0) at Grand Ledge (1-1)

Although the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue looks like a possibility for up to four playoff teams, the league title could be decided tonight. Sexton has continued to build an impressive argument as an MHSAA title favorite with road wins over Detroit East English and Monroe, while Grand Ledge might be the league’s other top contender after a win over Forest Hills Central and then a loss last week to Holland West Ottawa after the Comets led by two scores.

Others that caught my eye: Jackson Lumen Christi (2-0) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (1-1), St. Johns (2-0) at Haslett (1-1), DeWitt (2-0) at Mason (1-1), Lansing Catholic (2-0) at Portland (2-0).

Upper Peninsula

Hurley, Wis. (3-0) at Crystal Falls Forest Park (2-0)

The Great Western Conference is one of only two during football season that includes both MHSAA and Wisconsin teams, and this continues to be the game that ends up deciding the champion. This is the fourth straight season these two have opened the league schedule against each other, with Forest Park coming off two straight victories in the series. The Trojans have a new coach after the retirement of Bill Santilli, one of the most highly-respected in either peninsula, but opened with a pair of wins of at least 27 points apiece.

Others that caught my eye: Iron Mountain (1-1) at Iron River West Iron County (2-0), Felch North Dickinson (2-0) at Munising (1-1), Gladstone (2-0) at Negaunee (2-0), L'Anse (1-1) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (1-1).

Greater Detroit

Oak Park (1-1) at Farmington Hills Harrison (2-0)

Harrison was second and Oak Park tied for third in the Oakland Activities Association White last season, and they’re contenders again if not favorites. They played one of the most exciting games in the entire OAA in 2013, a 60-52 Harrison win after Oak Park edged the Hawks 26-21 in 2012. The Knights enter with the lone loss between the two so far this fall – but it’s a 27-26 defeat to Detroit Cass Tech in arguably the best game of opening weekend.

Others that caught my eye: Warren Mott (2-0) at Macomb Dakota (1-1), New Boston Huron (2-0) at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (2-0), Detroit Country Day (1-1) at Detroit Loyola (2-0), Clinton (2-0) at Ottawa Lake Whiteford (2-0).

Southwest and Border

Stevensville Lakeshore (2-0) at Portage Central (1-0) 

Beating Lakeshore 38-28 in Week 4 last season was the biggest early win on Portage Central’s way to its best finish ever – 12-1. The Mustangs are coming off an unexpected off week, as they were not able to reschedule against Battle Creek Lakeview after storms prevented the game Friday night. Lakeshore’s start is anything but a typical 2-0 , as last week’s 35-7 win over Kalamazoo Loy Norrix was preceded by a 2-0 victory by a safety over Battle Creek Central on opening night.

Others that caught my eye: Portage Northern (2-0) at St. Joseph (2-0), Kalamazoo Central (0-2) at Kalamazoo Loy Norrix (0-2), Mendon (2-0) at Watervliet (1-1), Battle Creek Central (1-1) at Battle Creek Lakeview (0-1).

Lower Up North

Traverse City West (1-1) at Traverse City Central (2-0)

These rivals emerged from the former Traverse City High in 1997, and West owns a 12-5 advantage in the series although they have split the last two match-ups. West's 17-14 win in Week 3 last season helped get the Titans into the playoffs and helped keep Central out with the same record. They play to open the Big North Conference season at neutral Thirlby Field, and it should be packed again.

Others that caught my eye:
Cadillac (2-0) at Petoskey (2-0), Traverse City St. Francis (1-1) at Elk Rapids (1-1), Rogers City (2-0) at Lincoln Alcona (2-0), Manton (2-0) at Evart (1-1).

Bay and Thumb

Montrose (2-0) at Lake Fenton (1-1)

Montrose hasn't lost a Genesee Area Conference Red game since Week 3 of 2010. But last week's one-score victory over Corunna made the Rams look at least a little less invincible, and Lake Fenton is sure to try to pounce. The Blue Devils finished second to Montrose the last two seasons and bounced back from a bad opening-night loss to Freeland with a similarly big win over Durand.

Others that caught my eye: Davison (1-1) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (1-1), Reese (1-1) at Marlette (1-1), Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port (2-0) at Ubly (1-1), Croswell-Lexington (1-1) at Richmond (2-0).


Carsonville-Port Sanilac (0-2) at Deckerville (2-0)

Carsonville-Port Sanilac has never found itself in this position during the short history of 8-player football, or at all since 2008. But a win over rival Deckerville – 4-0 against the Tigers since moving to 8-player in 2012 – would certainly be a jumpstart to CPS's season. Carsonville-Port Sanilac was the inaugural MHSAA 8-player champion in 2011, and Deckerville kept the title in the Thumb by winning in 2012.

Others that caught my eye: Akron-Fairgrove (1-1) at Owendale-Gagetown (2-0), Waldron (2-0) at Portland St. Patrick (2-0).

PHOTO: Midland (blue helmet) is 1-1 after a 31-15 victory last week over Bay City Central. (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.)