A Game for Every Fan: Week 5

September 20, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Some of the strongest followings of high school football in this state take place in some of our smallest communities.

And some of Michigan's smallest towns should see some of the best games of this week, the midpoint of the 2012 regular season. 

See below for this observer's picks of the best matchups from your corner of the state. And remember to visit the MHSAA Score Center all weekend for updated scores and standings.

(All are tonight unless noted. Go to Score Center for additional dates and kickoff times.)

Bay and Thumb

Vassar (4-0) at Reese (4-0)

A move into the Greater Thumb Conference West five years ago, from the Tri-Valley Conference East, has paid off for Vassar. The Vulcans are 30-14 in that time, including a 4-0 start this fall during which they’ve outscored opponents 127-6. The only league team they haven’t beaten since the move: Reese, which handed Vassar its only GTC West losses the last two seasons and is averaging 45 points per game.

Others that caught my eye: Merrill (2-2) at Carrollton (4-0), Saginaw Swan Valley (4-0) at Freeland (3-1), Mount Pleasant (2-2) at Midland (4-0), Essexville Garber (3-1) at Millington (3-1).

Greater Detroit

Livonia Churchill (4-0) at Canton (3-1)

Churchill is lining itself up well for its best season in decades. The Chargers have the most playoff points in the state through four games, have scored at least 35 points in each, and with a another win over Canton – Churchill beat the Chiefs by a point last season – the Chargers will be heavy favorites to win their first league championship since 1979. What about Canton? Its only loss this season was by a point to undefeated Midland.

Others that caught my eye: Detroit Cass Tech (4-0) at Orchard Lake St. Mary (3-1), Farmington (4-0) at Oak Park (4-0), Warren Michigan Collegiate (4-0) at Detroit University Prep (4-0), Wyandotte Roosevelt (4-0) at Taylor Truman (4-0).

Upper Peninsula

Cedarville (4-0) at Eben Junction Superior Central (4-0)

In no other division is the importance of playoff points as cut and dried as in 8-player. The top 16 teams, based on playoff points, make the postseason. Simple as that. These two are in fine shape so far; Cedarville is second only to Portland St. Patrick in points, and Superior Center is third. And they’re also two of three 4-0 teams atop the Bridge 8-Man Football Alliance (Rapid River is the third.). Cedarville and Rapid River shared the title in 2011.

Others that caught my eye: Powers North Central (3-1) at Crystal Falls Forest Park (4-0), Iron Mountain (2-2) at Ishpeming Westwood (2-2), Hurley, Wis (2-2) at Bessemer (3-1), Engadine (2-1) at Rapid River (4-0).

Southwest and Border

Watervliet (4-0) at Hartford (4-0)

No league’s teams have enjoyed more nonconference success than the members of the Southwestern Athletic Conference South. Five of the six have started the season 4-0, with these two perhaps the most impressive so far. Watervliet has followed its 10-win season of last fall by outscoring its first opponents in 2012 by a combined 204-13. Hartford hasn’t been far behind that pace, winning all of its games by at least 28 points.

Others that caught my eye: Lawton (4-0) at Decatur (4-0), Three Rivers (3-1) at Edwardsburg (3-1), St. Joseph (3-1) at Portage Central (3-1), Stevensville Lakeshore (4-0) at Niles (3-1).

West Michigan

Whitehall (2-2) at Montague (3-1)

These West Michigan Conference rivals have played annually for the “Bell” since 1906, with Montague winning the last five meetings. Despite a big loss to Muskegon Oakridge, the Wildcats have won their other three games this fall by a combined score of 152-0. But don’t count out Whitehall; after a 2-0 start, its losses were by eight and four points to Shelby and North Muskegon the last two weeks, respectively.

Others that caught my eye: Caledonia (4-0) at Grand Rapids Christian (3-1), East Grand Rapids (2-2) vs. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (3-1) at Fifth Third Ballpark, Hudsonville Unity Christian (2-2) at Grand Rapids South Christian (3-1), Muskegon Oakridge (4-0) at Ravenna (2-2).


DeWitt (3-1) at St. Johns (4-0)

Both coming off of one-point wins last week, these Capital Area Activities Conference Red rivals either will be worn down, or more likely raring to go against what has arguably become the biggest rival for both. These teams haven’t had to play this many close games in a while, and this one should be tight too – all four Redwings wins this season have come by six or fewer points, and DeWitt has scored as many as it has given up. The Panthers hold a 4-3 edge since the series was renewed in 2005.

Others that caught my eye: East Lansing (4-0) at Holt (2-2), Charlotte (2-2) at Mason (4-0), Portland (4-0) at Williamston (3-1), Comstock Park (3-1) at Belding (2-2).

Lower Up North

Pellston (4-0) at Pickford (4-0)

Pellston is arguably the biggest surprise of the northern Lower Peninsula – the Hornets had won a combined four games over the last three seasons, and last won four in one season in 2002. But Pickford also has to be excited about its best start since 2005, especially in its first season in the Ski Valley Conference, which added teams and split into the North and South this fall. The Panthers are just two more wins from their first playoff berth since 2007.

Others that caught my eye: Traverse City Central (3-1) at West Branch Ogemaw Heights (2-2), Onaway (4-0) at Mancelona (4-0), Lake City (4-0) at McBain (2-2), Boyne City (4-0) at Traverse City St. Francis (2-2).

PHOTO: Saginaw Swan Valley (white jerseys) defeated Alma last week to remain atop the Tri-Valley Conference Central standings. (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.)