Harbor Beach is Title Town

November 23, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

DETROIT – Harbor Beach always has considered itself a football town. Beginning with its last run to an MHSAA championship game in 1991, the Pirates have amassed six seasons with at least 10 wins – including four over the last decade.

But the 1,600 residents living along that stretch of Lake Huron shoreline now can call it the home of a champion as well.

Harbor Beach claimed its first MHSAA football title Friday, beating two-time champion Beal City 35-10.

Only two years ago, the Pirates were coming off their third straight losing season. But they bounced back with a District title in 2011, and also set a school record for wins this fall finishing 13-1 – guaranteeing this group will be remembered with special regard among the many who have made marks on the program.

“We’re state champions,” Pirates senior Aaron Ginther said. “That’s all I have to say,” leaving junior quarterback Eli Kraft to elaborate.

“I couldn’t be prouder of our team. We lost Sloan earlier in the year, and everybody gave up on us. But what matters is we stuck together and we believe in ourselves, and we believed that if we worked hard every day in practice we could get it.”

“Sloan” is senior running back/linebacker Sloan Klaski. He's 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds and ran for 1,041 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, but was knocked out for this one by an injury on opening night.

That could have knocked the feet out from under Harbor Beach’s title march before it got started. Instead, the Pirates began a stand that carried through the season’s final day.

Harbor Beach’s defense began Friday by showing off that resolve. Beal City took the ball away on an interception barely more than a minute into the game, but gave the ball back on downs when senior nose guard Josh Keyes led a fourth-down pile-up that stopped the Aggies inches from the goalline.

The Pirates held their ground again when Beal City appeared to be gaining steam. Down 28-10 with 1:53 to play in the third quarter, the Aggies were driving to make the game close again and pushed to Harbor Beach’s 2-yard line. But Keyes and junior linebacker DeAndre Ridner stopped an inside run for no gain, and senior defensive end Brandon Oswald chased down the runner on a fourth-down pitch that also failed to reach the end zone.

Five minutes later, junior Colin Cook snagged an interception that effectively ended the game.

Beal City had scored 40 or more points in eight games this fall and never fewer than 25. The Aggies also averaged 372 total yards per game entering the day but gained only 291 in the Final. They became the 10th team to score 10 or fewer points against Harbor Beach – although Schelke said after that his team played above its usual high level to shut down the Aggies.

“The momentum changed when we didn’t get that score at the beginning. It really stoked them up and set us back a little bit,” Beal City coach Lou Rau said.

“We might’ve made three stands. One time we held them to a field goal too, and that felt like a little bit of a victory,” Schelke added.

And his offense did plenty to give the Pirates a cushion.

Kraft, an all-state honorable mention, completed 8 of 13 passes for 168 yards and two scores and ran for 70 yards and another touchdown. His scoring passes set the tone early – the first 54 yards to Ginther and the second 69 yards to junior Travis Essenmacher, both before the end of the first quarter.

Ginther also had 12 tackles at linebacker, and Keyes had 10. Senior defensive end Kyle Kramer had two sacks for the Pirates.

Junior running back Ty Rollin ran for 76 yards and Beal City’s lone touchdown. Junior linebacker Hayden Huber had 13 tackles and sophomore linebacker Alex Schafer had 10. Kicker Paul Anders, a foreign exchange student from Germany playing football for the first time this season, drilled a 30-yard field goal – the first in a Division 8 Final since Climax-Scott’s J Rustenholtz hit a 26-yarder in his team’s 42-8 win over Crystal Falls Forest Park in 2004.

Beal City fell to Forest Park that season in a Semifinal. But the Aggies are used to making this trip – Friday’s was their sixth championship game appearance, with their last title coming in 2009. The Aggies finished 13-1. “Thirteen wins in a season is pretty admirable, and you can’t ask for a better group of guys,” Rau said.

Harbor Beach's community came out in en masse for a Thanksgiving send-off parade that sent chills through Schelke and his players alike. They then followed the Pirates to Ford Field on Friday.  

“We are a football town. We have a great tradition at Harbor Beach starting with coach John Jack Dillon that led the team here in '91, and it’s just carried on,” Schelke said. “We’re on a great streak right now with great seniors leading, and we think we have some great players coming from behind. There’s a lot of alumni here that played on great Harbor Beach teams.”

“Our fans are fantastic, and they support us, and they had a blast today.”

Click for full statistics and to watch a replay of the game. See below for the full press conference.

PHOTOS: (Top) Harbor Beach senior Derek Pfaff (7) holds up the Division 8 championship trophy to the crowd with teammates Brandon Pfaff (4) and Justin Lasceski. (Middle) Pirates senior Aaron Ginther (47) pulls in a catch with Beal City's Sam Schafer giving chase. (Click for more from 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.)