Veteran Coach Shows Wayne the Way

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

September 16, 2015

WAYNE – Donald Anderson watched the Wayne Memorial football program lose game after game after game.

As a fan of high school football and a resident of Westland, Anderson, at times, just shook his head. As a former coach, Anderson thought about the possibility of doing something about it.

Few Class A programs have had less success than Wayne. The Zebras have made the playoffs twice and have yet to win a playoff game. Wayne’s last winning season came in 2006, when it finished 5-4. From 2010-2013, Wayne won one game. The Zebras were 2-7 last season.

Wayne is a member of the Kensington Lakes Activities Association and competes in the South division with such well-respected and successful programs like Canton, Livonia Churchill and Plymouth. Even its sister school, Westland John Glenn (the schools are part of the Wayne/Westland school district), has been a playoff team on a regular basis.

As a point of fact, four members of the KLAA South (Canton, John Glenn, Livonia Franklin and Plymouth) have reached an MHSAA Final. 

Wayne’s road to rise is not an easy one.

But they have begun the climb.

“We’re getting better. We moved it well against Plymouth (in a 36-13 loss last week). We just don’t have a lot of firepower," Anderson said. 

“We’ve got a good young squad. We have just seven seniors, and we don’t have a JV. We have just 12 sophomores and I didn’t want to take away from our freshmen, because they’re good, and we can build on that.”

Last April the Wayne/Westland school district had openings for a head varsity football coach, at both John Glenn and at Wayne. Anderson applied for both and was hired at Wayne. This season he became the school’s fourth head coach in as many years.

Anderson, a Detroit Cody graduate and former NFL player (he was the 32nd player taken in the 1985 NFL Draft after playing four years at Purdue University), has had success as an assistant or head coach at every school he’s been at since he starting coaching in 1989. 

Anderson was the defensive coordinator at Cody before becoming the head coach in 1995. In 1999, he went to Detroit Henry Ford as an assistant under Mike Marshall before going to Detroit Northwestern in 2003 as an assistant under Michael Crayton. In 2009, Anderson became the head coach at Northwestern. The school closed after the 2009-10 school year, and Anderson decided, at that time, enough was enough.

He’s been a spectator ever since. Until this season.

“I was still involved,” he said. “I was in consultations with other schools. They wanted to pick my mind. I had a lot of opportunities to coach. It wasn’t the right time. I’ve lived in Westland since 2009. I live between Wayne and Glenn, and I’ve been watching Wayne for a while. I decided to give it a shot. The subject just drew me in. When the opportunity came, I said let’s try it.”

But coaches at Wayne don’t last long. Why would a person, 52 years old and a successful businessman, take a position there when he passed up other coaching opportunities?

A big part was wanting to help local athletes pursue their dreams at the college level. But there also was the challenge. 

“I like a task," Anderson said. "It’s like when I left Henry Ford and went to Northwestern. People thought I was crazy. Low and behold, look who’s on my staff.”

Marshall is now Anderson’s assistant, as is Charles Spann, a former head coach at Detroit Chadsey and Detroit Pershing. It’s people like Marshall and Spann who waited for Anderson to get back into coaching to return to the sidelines themselves.

Both Marshall and Spann won Detroit Public School League titles as head coaches. Now they’re trying to help a friend experience the same.

There are definite reasons for optimism. Anderson sees a lot of potential in 6-foot-3, 215-pound sophomore Reggie Micheaux, a receiver and defensive end. "He can go up and get it, and he's a big target," the coach said. 

Running backs Jarvis Martin and Malik Bryant, the latter also a defensive back, are among others who are impressing early.

Anderson said former players like himself are different. They have their pride. Their egos push them into circumstances others wouldn’t tread.

But for Anderson, it’s more than his ego he’s trying to satisfy. Ten years ago he was diagnosed with kidney failure. He went through dialysis until he received a kidney transplant five years after the diagnosis. After two years, his new kidney failed. Anderson has received kidney dialysis, three days a week, since 2012. With all of that comes a different perspective.

The winning, for now, has had to wait. Wayne is 0-3. Still, those 13 points represented the most they’ve scored against Plymouth since 2007.

It doesn’t get any easier with Canton (3-0) next, but the Zebras will continue to build.  

“It’s about passing it on,” he said. “God has been good to me. It’s about helping others.”

Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Malik Bryant breaks past pursuing Plymouth defenders during last week's game. (Middle) Jarvis Martin works against a Plymouth player. (Below) Kyle Brooks turns upfield. (Photos courtesy of Wayne Memorial athletic department/Kathy Hansen Photography.)

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.)