Program Builder Boyd Honored by Our Lady

October 12, 2016

By Keith Dunlap
Special for Second Half

WATERFORD – Mike Boyd always had a grand vision how his last home game as head coach at Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes would play out.

As it got into the later stages of a nearly 50-year tenure as football coach, athletic director and so much more at the school, Boyd had one specific idea for how he wanted to go out.

“I always said that the last game I coached before I retired, I was going to play it here under the lights,” said Boyd, referring to the field at the school that doesn’t have permanent lights. “I didn’t get a chance.”

Boyd did not, since in April 2013 he decided to retire as football coach from WOLL after a 46 year-career in order to move full-time to Sarasota, Florida.

However, last Friday proved to be the next best thing for Boyd and the Our Lady of the Lakes community.

In a ceremony that was more than three years in the making after he made his retirement official, Boyd was brought back for the honor of having the entire athletic complex at Our Lady of the Lakes named after him.

To top it all off, the ceremony took place under portable lights in what doubled as the first night game ever at the school.

The game was against Royal Oak Shrine, which is not only the biggest rival for Our Lady of the Lakes, but coached by Boyd’s longtime best friend in coaching, John Goddard.

All anyone needs to do is look at MHSAA record book for evidence that it was a no-brainer for Our Lady of the Lakes to name the athletic complex after Boyd, one of the state’s all-time greatest prep athletic figures.

As football coach, Boyd won 357 games in his 46 years, which currently is good for fourth place on the all-time wins list for coaches in that sport.

He led the Lakers to three appearances in MHSAA football championship games, with the zenith of his coaching career on the gridiron coming in 2002 when his Our Lady of the Lakes team won its only Finals title in school history with a 13-10 overtime win over Gaylord St. Mary in Division 8.

Facing a 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line that day, Boyd didn’t hesitate in sending his offense out to go for the win on a do-or-die running play, and the decision paid off when running back Murray Percival broke the goal line to give Boyd his long-awaited title.

The jubilation was apparent on Boyd with how high he jumped over and over again in celebration following the handshake line.

While that was the only time Boyd celebrated an MHSAA championship in football, he did so plenty of times on the softball diamond.

Boyd led Our Lady of the Lakes to what remains a team state-record eight MHSAA championships in softball, going a perfect 8-for-8 in title game appearances and finishing with 703 career wins before retiring from that sport in 2007.

During his tenure, Boyd also coached two games for the hockey team, track & field and started the baseball program by coaching it for its first year of existence.

When not on a playing surface, Boyd was a principal, bus driver, the athletic director and overall face of not only what has become one of the state’s best small-school athletic programs, but the school as a whole.

One of Boyd’s big contributions was creating the home football field at Our Lady of the Lakes behind its school in stunningly quick fashion after some unexpected news.

Our Lady of the Lakes used to play home games at other high schools or middle schools in Waterford, but that changed suddenly in 2001 before a scheduled home game against Royal Oak Shrine.

“They got a new school board one year,” Boyd said. “We used to pay like $250 a game. They came back and said ‘We want $1,200 a game.’ The Dads club got together and put (the press box) up on one week and got the field ready.”

Indeed, in a matter of days a three-story press box was built (fully furnished later in the season) and space for a football field was created (the right side of it through the infield of the baseball diamond) to allow Our Lady of the Lakes to play games on its campus.

It was fitting that the first home game in 2001 was against Shrine and that the ceremony last week was against Shrine, given his nearly 50-year friendship with Goddard.

The two had a nice chat on Shrine’s bench before the game last Friday, and one can only imagine the stories that were re-hashed.

In fact, when Boyd announced his retirement in 2013, he said how much he would miss playing against “that old turkey” in Goddard.

No doubt, Goddard misses competing against Boyd just as much.

“One year he had a kid that got hurt during practice during that week and he shows up at our place for a game, and after kickoff he comes out and starts running a single-wing,” Goddard said. “I go, ‘What the heck is this offense he is running?’ We beat them, but it took us half a game to figure what he was doing. He made it up on Saturday and we played on Sunday. He was a great coach.”

Boyd still follows the Our Lady of the Lakes program from Florida, watching film online and communicating regularly with current Our Lady of the Lakes head coach Josh Sawicki, a player on that 2002 title team – although Boyd was quick to point out he wants no part in decision-making with the Lakes team. “He’s his own coach,” Boyd said of Sawicki.

Boyd also returns to Michigan every August to help out with preseason practices for Lake Orion, which is coached by his son-in-law, Chris Bell, and he visits Sawicki at his preseason practices while in the area.

Before the game last Friday, Sawicki spoke about how little the topic of the ceremony came up with Boyd during conversations in the days leading up to the game.

“He was talking to me Wednesday or Thursday night, and there was not one question about (the ceremony),” Sawicki said. “It was all about the game plan. ‘What have you got? What have they got? What will you do if they do this? Watch out for Goddard because he likes to do this and likes to do that.’ Still to this day, that was all he was talking about.”

Sawicki said doing things without fanfare is who “Coach” has always been, and it’s a legacy that will be carried on in name now that the athletic complex is named after Boyd.

More importantly, it will also be carried on in spirit.

“He built that brand,” Sawicki said. “It’s the responsibility of the coaches and the players to continue that brand on. That is what we are focused on doing.”

PHOTOS: (Top) Our Lady of the Lakes football coach Mike Boyd hoists the Division 8 championship trophy in 2002 after his team defeated Gaylord St. Mary at the Pontiac Silverdome. (Middle) Boyd (left) receives a plaque from Rev. Lawrence Delonnay, Our Lady’s pastor, on Friday to recognize the naming of the school’s athletic complex in Boyd’s honor.

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.)