#TBT: Searching for The Hinker Bell

September 28, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Menominee will host Escanaba on Friday in the 121st meeting between two of the Upper Peninsula’s largest high schools and proudest football programs – but with the trophy celebrating the game still missing after it first disappeared more than half a century ago.

The two teams from 1948-1962 played for the The Hinker Bell, a locomotive bell that hasn’t been seen since 1963.

A decade ago, Escanaba Daily Press sports editor (and now Second Half correspondent) Denny Grall wrote about a newfound search for The Hinker Bell. But the mystery continues, and Grall’s story below tells of many of the twists and turns that to that point that had come in trying to locate it.

ESCANABA — Another search is underway to find the Hinker Bell.

The former locomotive bell went to the winner of the Escanaba-Menominee football game for about 15 years but has been missing for more than 40 years. It came from a locomotive owned by the Bay de Noquet Company and used on the LS&I Railroad that operated in Delta and Menominee counties.

The locomotive was built in 1906 by Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia and the bell was believed to have been cast in the railroad foundry, according to a 1953 newspaper clipping.

In 1948, one of the locomotive owners presented the bell to his friend, John Hinker of Menominee, an ardent sports fan who donated materials for the press box at Menominee’s Walton Blesch Field.

Hinker gave the bell to then Menominee coach Mickey McCormick and indicated proper use for the bell would be as an award for the gridiron rivalry.

Now Hinker’s great great nephew is trying to find the bell, which has not been seen since Escanaba’s current high school opened in 1963.

Tim Waters of Land O’ Lakes, Wis., who has launched the search, became interested by researching his family tree. “It is a big trophy (between 80 and 150 pounds by various estimates) and it is odd that it is missing,” Waters said in a recent telephone chat.

“One theory is that it is in somebody’s hunting camp or a home and they are using it as their own trophy,” said Waters.

“We have a pretty good investigation going on and all help is appreciated. If somebody does have it, we’re not looking to prosecute them. We’re just looking to get the darn thing back. Nobody will be in trouble.”

Waters refuted the old idea the bell was melted down. He has contacted numerous bell collectors, and they said a junk yard would have known it was worth a lot more than melted metal.

“The bell was not destroyed. We’ve come to that conclusion,” he said. “It was not put in a scrap yard.”

Waters contacted Coplan Iron and Metal of Escanaba and learned that bells were not melted or crushed and said the firm never accepted a bell with engravings matching the Hinker Bell.

Waters learned those businesses would sell them for the weight value to people who wanted them for yard ornaments/dinner bells, or to collectors.

“It is a treasure and it needs to be found,” said Waters.

Waters said the last known photo of the bell was with then EHS football coach Al Sigman and Esky players John Fisher and Phil Davidson in 1960. Escanaba beat Menominee from 1959-63 but could not find the bell in 1964 when the Maroons won. No one he has talked to remembers seeing the bell present at the first three games during the tenure of coach Jerry Cvengros.

The current Escanaba High School opened in 1963 and Bay de Noc Community College then occupied the old facility, which has since been demolished.

“Records indicate there was no report (of a missing bell) filed by Escanaba school district to the police department,” Waters said.

“The Hinker Bell is part of U.P. Michigan’s history, as is football and the railroads,” Waters said. “The people of Escanaba and Menominee deserve to have this trophy returned to their high schools.”

Waters, who has never seen an Escanaba or Menominee football game but is planning to rectify that omission this season, is hoping students at the two schools will join in the treasure hunt and talk about it with their parents and grandparents.

He has already contacted EHS athletic director Rob Ryan, who plans to thoroughly search the school basement.

He would like to find a photo of the bell to help collectors in their search. “Each bell was for a special locomotive,” said Waters.

“If they have a good picture we can pass it around and say we are looking for this bell. If they can pinpoint what this bell was on, they can help get the word out.”

He has also extended the search to the website at upfootball.com, which has generated interest but no bell. “If the bell is in the area still today, I don’t think it will take long to surface,” he said.

“If we don’t find this bell, we are going to try to make up a replacement as close as possible if the two schools are interested in that,” he said.

Waters is hoping that real estate agents, postal workers, delivery personnel, construction workers, etc., may have seen the bell during their travels and can help retrieve it.

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.)