Michigan's Football Past: A Must Read

By Ron Pesch
MHSAA historian

September 27, 2016

By Ron Pesch
Special for Second Half

This week, the contents of my mailbox reminded me about one of my favorite items to collect – booklets and programs celebrating the history of Michigan high school football.

Contained within was the 2016 edition of the book, “Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Prep Football History.” Featuring a glorious image on the cover, it’s a delight to flip through. Rob Goddard and crew are to be commended on the fantastic job they’ve done with this 104-page chronicle.

The package recalled the first in my collection – a publication I helped create.

The 25-year celebration of Muskegon Mona Shores football was a modest piece, created before the days of desktop publishing. Because I had assembled the scores of the district’s games, I approached the school and found an individual willing to take a chance. Jerry Fitzpatrick, Sailors athletic director at the time, approved the idea of a booklet celebrating the school’s Silver Football Anniversary.

With gusto, we tapped into a host of resources and dove into digging out photos and details designed to capture everything we could on the years 1962 through 1985, with room for fans to collect details on the coming season. We even included a page on cheerleaders and Homecoming Kings and Queens in hopes of broadening our market.

My second acquisition was a document on Battle Creek Central football, created by MHSAA historian Dick Kishpaugh. It totaled 42 pages in length and included most everything there was to know about the Bearcats, Kishpaugh’s alma mater.

A souvenir football program celebrating Kalamazoo Central’s history followed, also heavily influenced by the work of Kishpaugh. A 60-year history of all sports at Gaylord St. Mary soon landed in my hands, passed on to me by sportswriter and historian Jay Soderberg, editor of the publication. A history of little Grant High School football, published, I believe, in 1979, was the next to arrive.

In 1993, I partnered with baseball historian Marc Okkonen to produce “100 Years of Muskegon Big Red Football 1895-1994,” a 90-page history of our alma mater. That publication was marketed by the school’s Athletic Foundation as a fundraiser and sold well. To my delight, it seemed to spark the publication by a number of other districts of their football histories. Grand Haven and Escanaba followed a similar format and were both quick to market. Each book also celebrated a centennial of gridiron action. Other publications began to surface.

Riding a string of gridiron championships, Farmington Hills Harrison produced a 108-page program, highlighting the accomplishments from their 25-year football history, in 1994. Additional histories from Cadillac, Frankenmuth, Lowell, Negaunee, Boyne City, Niles, Sturgis and Traverse City appeared, some focused on football, others on all sports. So too did one highlighting the Centennial football game between Saginaw and Saginaw Arthur Hill, as did one a few years later celebrating the M & M game, among the nation’s oldest cross-border battles staged between Menominee and Marinette, Wisconsin.

But since then, things seem to have fallen silent. I believe a lengthy history on Grand Rapids Catholic Central made it to press, although I don’t possess a copy. I’ve seen, but have yet to acquire, a football booklet on Sparta High School football.

Do others exist? Enquiring minds want to know.

During the gap, John Hulsebus has created, and continues to maintain and enhance a dream website, Michigan-football.com, containing an exhaustive collection of scores, season win-loss marks and records versus opponents for games played since 1950. The site lists schools, past and present for every high school in the state. Like many, I reference it often. Yet, for many schools in the state, that means as many as 55 years of gridiron action remains unrecorded.

Also missing are the stories that sit behind the scores: the players, the coaches, the drama, the locals and pageantry of a Friday night or a Saturday afternoon at the stadium. In the meantime, scrapbooks containing news clippings, game programs, and photographs, once prepared for our fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers, gather dust or disappear.

Tell me please, we haven’t forgotten to capture those details from our past?

Ron Pesch has taken an active role in researching the history of MHSAA events since 1985 and began writing for MHSAA Finals programs in 1986, adding additional features and "flashbacks" in 1992. He inherited the title of MHSAA historian from the late Dick Kishpaugh following the 1993-94 school year, and resides in Muskegon. Contact him at [email protected] with ideas for historical articles.

PHOTOS: (Top) Orchard Lake St. Mary's annually produces an updated history of the school's football program. (Middle) Niles and Muskegon Mona Shores are among other programs that have documented their histories in book form. (Below) The program for the 100th game between Menominee and Marinette, Wis., was a keeper as well. 

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.)