Lumen Repeat 'Club' Inducts Newest Class

November 24, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

DETROIT – The challenge came one more time over text Thursday night, from a pair of assistant coaches who had something their players desperately wanted.

Tony Panici and Tyler Aldridge were part of Jackson Lumen Christi’s repeat Division 5 champions in 2003 and 2004, and they had one question for today’s Titans: “Do you have what it takes to join the back-to-back club?”

“That really stuck with us,” Lumen Christi junior linebacker Nick Thomas said. “And I think it gave us that little edge to be able to come out and leave everything on the field, and just join that club.”

Panici and Aldridge – who also were part of the 2005 runner-up team – sent along photos of their championship rings as well. And now the program will need to mint another 80 or so more.

Indeed the Titans won their 10th championship Friday at Ford Field, for the second straight season in Division 6, completing their first repeat since Panici and Aldridge’s sophomore and junior years more than a decade ago. And Lumen Christi did it by holding off arguably the state’s most successful program of the last decade – five-time champion Ithaca – by holding on for a 40-34 win.

The Titans led by 20 midway through the fourth quarter before the Yellowjackets pulled to within six with 2:27 to play. Lumen Christi (12-1) was able to run off those final minutes but needed every last yard – securing the victory by getting two on a 4-and-1 dive by senior Kyle Minder with under a minute to play.

It was a symbolic way to end the final rally. The Yellowjackets (12-1) have won their five titles over the last eight seasons with offenses led by dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks, and made this run led by senior signal-caller Joey Bentley – who ended the fall with 2,144 yards and 31 touchdowns passing and 1,656 yards and 27 scores rushing.

Lumen Christi’s attack is far more old school, a grind-it-out style that this season headlined senior Sebastion Toland with Minder mostly blocking in front of him and behind a powerful offensive line. The Titans didn’t throw a pass during the second half Friday, aside from a two-point conversion try, mostly because they were able to follow up Ithaca’s defensive stops with long runs – Minder ripped off scoring sprints of four, 43 and 63 yards over the final two quarters, and Toland had an 80-yarder to make the lead 19 points just more than a minute into the fourth.

“The offensive line really came off the ball in the second half,” said longtime Lumen Christi coach Herb Brogan, who finished his 38th season running the program. “We felt all year long that offensive line was the strength of our team, and we’ve got some pretty good people to run behind them. I really thought they asserted themselves in the second half and took control of the line of scrimmage.”

The Titans ran for 514 yards on 67 carries, averaging 7.7 yards per attempt. The carries were the second most by one team in an MHSAA championship game.

Toland finished with 244 yards on 33 carries, and Minder had 206 on 23 attempts. Both made the MHSAA record book list for rushing yards in a Final, Toland’s total tying for seventh highest. He had 176 of those yards during the second half. Thomas also scored his team’s first touchdown on a 72-yard reverse.

“They’re a fantastic team offensively, and we knew that. Our challenge was getting off the field,” Ithaca coach Terry Hessbrook said.

“Our defense is fast, but obviously we’re not very big. They asked me at halftime on TV what (Lumen’s) adjustment was going to be. And I said I expected a lot more power running game from them in the second half, and unfortunately that’s exactly what we got.”

A 51-yard touchdown run by Bentley gave Ithaca a 13-8 lead it carried into halftime. Lumen Christi swung the score 24 points to take a 31-12 advantage into the fourth quarter, but the Yellowjackets remained dangerous. Three of Bentley’s four touchdown passes came over the final 9:36.

He finished 11 of 21 passing for 240 yards and those four scores, and ran for 89 yards and one touchdown. Senior Adam Culp caught five passes for 70 yards and two of those scores.

“I’m glad the clock ran out when it did,” said Brogan, also the fifth winningest coach in MHSAA history with a 343-83 record. “They’re really explosive.”

Senior linebacker Ethan McCormick led Ithaca with 15 tackles, while senior nose guard Nathan Bellinger had 11 and senior linebacker Zach Hessbrook had 10.

The Yellowjackets have won 118 of their last 123 games.

“All I can say is this: When you coach a team, all you ask from them is that they play as hard as they can possibly play,” Terry Hessbrook said. “My kids do that. They do that for me, for my coaching staff.

“I told those guys at halftime, Jackson Lumen Christi has never a team like Ithaca High School, because we have no quitters. These kids, I’m so proud of them for it.”

Minder and Thomas both had six tackles to pace the Titans.

Click for the full box score.

The MHSAA Playoffs are sponsored by the Michigan Army National Guard.

PHOTOS: (Top) Lumen Christi’s Sebastion Toland works to break away from a tackler during the Titans’ Division 6 Final win Friday. (Middle) From left: Cameron White, Joe Barrett, Luke Stanton and Hunter Richmond celebrate with the championship trophy.

Constantine Football All-Stater, Wrestling Champ Aiming for Grand Finale

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

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.)