2-Sport All-Stater Ringler Eyes Repeat

January 23, 2019

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

CEDAR SPRINGS – Ryan Ringler’s wrestling journey has spanned nearly 14 years and included countless miles on the road traveling to tournaments, practices and college recruiting visits.

These experiences came with costs, both social and monetary, and the Cedar Springs senior standout has done what he could to help fund his dream.

Mowing lawns, roofing, painting and installing sprinklers are some of the odd jobs Ringler picked up to earn money.

“I do whatever jobs I can get to raise money because these trips are very expensive,” Ringler said.

All of Ringler’s hard work on and off the mat was rewarded as he recently committed to wrestle at Central Michigan University.

A dream was finally realized, and it took the help of a small town community to make it a reality.

“I’m really happy for him and his whole family because it’s been a goal he’s had for a long time,” Cedar Springs wrestling coach Nick Emery said. “The goal was to get Ryan to a Division I school to see what he could do and to prove that all the hard work and time and money and his parents driving all over the country was worth it.

“Just everyone coming together, and going out of their way to raise money. A lot of people were involved, and it was a community project at times.”

Ringler’s passion for wrestling started at age 3 when he would go to practices with his older brother, Jordan.

He started competing himself shortly after and quickly developed into a young talent.

For Ringler, traveling to various tournaments is fun.

“I like to travel around, and just getting to know the different guys from different schools and getting to see different styles and techniques of wrestling intrigued me,” Ringler said. “That’s what made me fall in love with the sport.”

Ringler competed in MYWAY wrestling and earned five state championships on the circuit. He garnered attention the summer before his freshman year – he took part in several national tournaments, and went unbeaten at the prestigious Virginia Beach duals.

Ringler’s success continued at the high school level.

As a freshman making his first trip to the MHSAA Individual Finals, Ringler lost his first match but rallied to win the next five en route to a third-place finish.

He also placed third as a sophomore, but broke through last season and won a Division 2 crown at 171 pounds with a 9-4 decision over Holly’s Cade Dallwitz to finish the winter a stellar 53-1.

“I was really expecting to be at the top my sophomore year, but that loss really motivated me and I wanted to be at least a two-time state champion,” Ringler said.

As a senior, Ringler is eyeing a repeat performance at the Finals. He’s currently 31-0 and nearing 200 career wins.

“Right now it’s more about getting ready for college wrestling,” Ringler said. “As a senior it would be cool to win another state title to end my career.”

Ringler has another talented teammate beside him this season. Sage Serbenta, a junior, finished fifth at the Finals last season competing for Grand Rapids Christian and wrestles at 189 pounds.

“He’s gotten bigger and he’s pushing me with his speed and strength,” Ringler said. “It makes us both better with conditioning, and we push each other mentally and physically.”

Emery has high hopes for both wrestlers.

“Sage has pushed Ryan in practices, and I think both of those guys could win state titles at either 171 or 189 pounds,” Emery said. “They have as good a chance as anybody else.”

Ringler’s wrestling prowess matches his elite skills on the football field.

A four-year varsity football player, he helped lead the Red Hawks to a 10-2 record in the fall. As a fierce linebacker, he racked up 110 tackles while rushing for nearly 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns. He received all-state honors to go along with his all-state accolades in wrestling.

“Ryan has been a very successful multi-sport athlete, and his success on the field and on the mat is not by accident,” Cedar Springs athletic director John Norton said. “He’s a tireless worker, always doing extra to gain the competitive edge. The most exciting thing is that he is showing a generation of athletes that it is possible to be a standout in multiple sports at the highest level and earn a college scholarship without specialization.”

Achieving all-state status in multiple sports is another level of accomplishment, and Ringler is humbled by the honors.

“It’s very unique, and a lot of people don’t get all-state in both wrestling and football,” he said. “It’s a tough thing to do in two very difficult sports. It’s a nice accomplishment, and something I can put on my wall when I’m older.”

Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Cedar Springs’ Ryan Ringler prepares to make his first move during last season’s Division 2 championship match at 171 pounds at Ford Field. (Middle) Ringler (24) pushes ahead this fall against Saginaw Swan Valley. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

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.)