Whiteford's Mensing Bringing Successful System to Westland John Glenn

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

April 26, 2022

Jason Mensing insists that when he showed up at Ottawa Lake Whiteford a decade ago he had thoughts of a state championship on his mind.

It seemed a tall task. The Bobcats had enjoyed pockets of success throughout school history but had just won just five playoff games and one conference football championship over the previous 45 years. 

Still, the Tecumseh native and former Adrian College football player was determined.

“We believed if we could imprint our system and develop a strength program and teach the fundamentals and continue to grow, we’d have success,” Mensing said. 

The formula was magic. Whiteford went 8-2 that first season under Mensing and tied a school record with nine wins in Year 2. By 2015, the Bobcats were in the MHSAA Semifinals for the first time. In 2016, Whiteford played at Ford Field for the first time. In 2017, Whiteford won a Division 8 championship. The Bobcats were a combined 93-24 during his decade running the program, including 11-2 this past fall.

“The reality is we do believe in our system,” Mensing said.

After 10 years, Mensing announced this week that he would be taking his system elsewhere. He will become the next head football coach at Westland John Glenn, a Class A school west of Detroit. The Rockets haven’t had much success in recent years, but school officials are excited to have Mensing on board.

“I’m excited to see what Jason can bring to our school and our program,” said John Glenn Principal Eric McCalla. “He is a culture builder. That’s one of the things we need here.”

McCalla is very familiar with Mensing. McCalla coached football for 16 years at Grass Lake and Manchester. At Grass Lake, McCalla’s team scrimmaged against Mensing’s for several years.

“It was definitely a great hire for us,” McCalla said. “We needed a different direction, and we feel confident that he is the right person for the job.”

Mensing, who will step down as athletic director and director of student advancement at Whiteford at the end of the school year, planned on meeting the John Glenn football players and parents this week. He will start immediately to build a coaching staff and relationships. 

“They’ve struggled the last couple of years, but there is a solid history there,” Mensing said. “The first thing is I want is to bring stability and consistency to the program. They’ve had three football coaches in four years. We have to create an atmosphere where playing football is fun, create a culture where kids are excited about being part of the program.”

John Glenn has known football success. During the 1990s, John Glenn made several deep runs in the playoffs, reaching the Finals in 1993 and the Semifinals two more times. 

The Rockets open the season Aug. 25 against Hartland in a nonleague game and play a challenging schedule in the always-tough Kensington Lakes Activities Association. They finished 2-7 last season and are seeking their first winning finish since 2014.

Ottawa Lake Whiteford football“There’s no doubt that we play a tough schedule,” McCalla said. “In any given year we play one if not two or even three teams ranked in the top five or top 10. It’s a tough football conference.

“I think the first thing he can do is instill confidence in our kids. That is an important first step – and not just the kids, but the parents and the community. Having confidence in our program.”

Mensing was an academic All-American at Adrian College, where his father Henry Mensing coached and served as athletic director. Jason Mensing has made four other coaching stops during his 19-year career and picked up a lot of playoff appearances and coach of the year awards, and a built a lot of relationships.

He led Addison to the playoffs in his first season as varsity coach. He spent one year at Grayling, and won an Associated Press Class B Coach of the Year award during his three years at Owosso. He returned to Lenawee County to coach Tecumseh during the mid-2000s. In his one year away from high school football, he coached at Siena Heights University. 

Whiteford lured him from the college level in 2012. 

It wasn’t long before the milestone games and victories began piling up. Ironically, two Bobcats playoff losses were important steps in the team’s ascension. The first was a 2013 loss to New Lothrop in the Division 8 Regional Final. The Bobcats had beaten Sterling Heights Parkway Christian 59-6 and Detroit Allen Academy 61-20 in two home District games, then went on the road to face the Hornets, a powerhouse program.

“That loss was really big,” he said. “It showed us how far away we were but showed us what we needed to do to get there.”

Whiteford won seven games the following year, and in 2015 the Bobcats won three playoff games for the first time in school history, including a victory over a strong Climax-Scotts team. They lost the following week to Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes, but again, Mensing said, it was a loss that showed them the way.

“It was the moment we knew we belonged,” he said.

The Bobcats have ‘belonged’ ever since, proving not to be a one-and-done type program. 

The 2017 team scored an incredible 737 points and punted just twice all season. The closest any opponent came was 16 points. Whiteford defeated Mendon in the Semifinals and Saginaw Nouvel in the Division 8 championship game.

Even in 2019 when the Bobcats went just 5-5, they upset a powerful Sand Creek team. Last year Whiteford reached the Division 8 Semifinals and led Hudson 22-0 at halftime before losing to the eventual champion, 28-22. 

“There were some ups and downs,” Mensing said. “There were times we implemented things that didn’t necessarily work. Overall, though, we kept growing. 

“When I look back at those years, the focus we started on growth and getting better year after year worked. We had 10 years of consistent growth. I do feel we are significantly more mature and better of a program than we were when I got here in 2012.”

Now, Mensing turns his attention to John Glenn, a school six times the size of Whiteford. He believes in the system he’s bringing with him and in the students at John Glenn.

“He’s a kid guy,” McCalla said. “We need people who are going to be there for our kids, not just football players, but all of our students. It’s not just about football, but life lessons.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Coach Jason Mensing confers with a Whiteford player during one of the team’s two runs to Ford Field. (Middle) Mensing will be leaving the program after 10 seasons with the Bobcats. (Top photo by Tom Hawley/Monroe News; middle by Cari Hayes.)

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.)