Undefeated Mancelona Earns League Title, Playoff Possibilities

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

October 8, 2021

Dan Derrer knows the highs and lows of coaching high school sports.

He’s been at the helm of the Mancelona football team for 16 years. During that span, the Ironmen had back-to-back undefeated seasons, a few with a handful of wins, and a winless 2017 campaign.

Now, the Ironmen are 5-0 for the first time since 2012 and facing the biggest game of their season.

Tonight they’re hosting conference rival Boyne City, also undefeated in the Northern Michigan Football League Leaders division. A win puts Mancelona in the driver seat with a trip to Charlevoix and a hosting of Glen Lake left to round out the regular season.

A potential conference title, postseason qualification and a drive toward a state championship have been on the team’s list of goals since the summer. The Ironmen are coming off a 3-5 2020 finish.

“I’ve had some really, really good teams,” Derrer said. “I’ve had some teams that weren’t as talented and didn’t win as much.

“Every season is different … you never know.”

Mancelona footballWinning and losing seasons, Derrer said the Ironmen always have given it their all.

“We’ve always taken the approach one game at a time, one practice at a time and try to get better every day,” he said. “Those years when you don’t win a lot takes a toll on the kids and the coaching staff. 

“When the kids go out and play hard and they give you all they got, that is really all you can ask for,” he continued. “It’s definitely fun when you win — even those other teams – they gave you everything they had, and that’s all you can ask for.”

The Ironmen kept unbeaten this year with a 14-8 win in their last outing over Kalkaska. Jason Naumcheff connected with Oumar Sy on the game’s final play to earn the victory.

Seniors Justin and Adam Ackler and Mason Crandall have put together a handful off multi-touchdown games this year to lead the Ironmen. Naumcheff, a junior quarterback, is throwing regularly for touchdowns. The Ackler brothers, Naumcheff and Crandall also average around double-digit tackles per game to lead the stingy defense.

The Ironmen are bolstered by retuning linemen Jake Watson, Jason Kihn, Kacy Pinney, Trace Miller, Kaleb Myszak and Justin Johnston and starting defenders Aaron Anderson and Landon McCorry.

“We were pretty excited about what we had coming back, and these guys work hard,” Derrer said.  “So far, so good.”

The Ironmen also are coming off a bye week. The break was expected to help the team get through injuries and better prepare for the big game with Boyne.

“We’ve been banged up,” Derrer acknowledged. “We’re trying to get guys healthy so hopefully we can be at full strength going into the Boyne game.”

Improved line play has helped the Ironmen this fall, Derrer points out. It has followed the addition of assistant coach Ralph Munger. He’s been focused on the trenches. Munger’s arrival follows Taylor Borst stepping in as the defensive backs and strength and conditioning coach in 2018.

Munger, one of the most successful high school football coaches in Michigan history, retired after the 2019 season with 335 victories at Rockford and Frankenmuth and three Division 1 championships with the Rams. His Rockford and Frankenmuth teams produced six undefeated regular seasons.

Mancelona footballBorst and Derrer met Munger as the 2020 season started. They hit it off right away. Munger represents another one of the highs in Derrer’s coaching career.

“He’s a very knowledgeable guy, and he’s awesome to have around,” Derrer said. “He’s been a huge help to us.

“He’s done a great job working with our lines,” Derrer continued. “It’s been unbelievable – we’re very fortunate.”

The Mancelona coaching staff chose to end a practice early in August to go to Rockford. They all attended a rededication ceremony of the Rockford football stadium. The stadium’s name was officially changed in January from the Ted Carlson Memorial Stadium to the Carlson-Munger Stadium to honor two men whose contributions exemplify "Ram Pride."

Today Munger is grateful he’s had a chance to work the Mancelona student-athletes. They’re in the midst of playoff contention and a battle for a conference championship.

They’ll enjoy hometown support too.

“Two of our last three (games) are at home, and they’re all going to be big games,” Derrer said. “All those games are going to be critical for conference and playoffs.

“We’ll have our hands full, but hopefully we’re up for the challenge.”

Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Mancelona’s Adam Ackler (2) carries the ball during an opening-day win over LeRoy Pine River. (Middle) Ironmen coach Dan Derrer consults with quarterback Jason Naumcheff (12). (Below) Longtime Rockford coach Ralph Munger, here with Jason Kihn (54), joined the Mancelona staff this fall. (Photos by Miles Postema.)

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.)