After Back to Back Runners-Up, Detroit Catholic Central Back on Top

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

February 25, 2023

KALAMAZOO – The Detroit Catholic Central wrestling team had grown tired of being second best.

After two straight runner-up finishes, the Shamrocks (28-2) returned to the top in Division 1 after a 41-31 victory over Hartland at Wings Event Center on Saturday.

And what did Shamrocks coach Mitch Hancock do to motivate his team to finally get over the hump? 

He reminded them of their past shortcomings.

“The first day of practice I put a picture up of the runner-up trophy from last year all over the locker room,” Hancock said. “Over the water fountain, in front of the urinals, it was everywhere. They weren't too happy about it, so we left it up for a few months and then they got rid of it on their own.

“I think these guys were pretty disappointed the last two years, and we thought we were close.”

Senior Dylan Gilcher, a three-time individual champion who’s headed to Michigan next, wasn’t fond of his coach’s motivational tactic.

However, it provided all the inspiration they needed.

“It was horrible,” said Gilcher, who earned an 18-6 major decision at 150 pounds. “I mean, every time we went to the bathroom we were just staring at it. Every time we walked into the locker room. It was bad.

“Not only that, but it was my sophomore and junior years. It’s a feeling you never want to have again, especially after feeling it two years in a row. I think all of the returning guys worked really hard ourselves. The coaches didn’t have to push us as much because we wanted it ourselves as a team.”

Hancock credited his coaching staff for the diligent preparation.

“I didn’t have to do much,” he said. “Our staff is incredible, perhaps the greatest coaching staff in the state, and they had those guys ready to go.”

Hartland’s Dallas Korponic and the Shamrocks’ Michael Cannon work for leverage at 120.Gilcher said it was the perfect ending to his career, and it erased the frustration of falling short the past two years.

“It’s amazing to end like this because we couldn’t get it done my sophomore and junior year,” he said. “To go out with one is a great feeling. We are bringing it back home, and you have to love that.”

The Division 1 Final featured the top-ranked teams in the state.

Hartland (27-2), in search of its first Finals’ title since 2016, finished runner-up for the sixth time in program history.

The two programs had faced each other in early December, when DCC provided Hartland’s only other loss 47-15.

“We opened with CC to kind of see where we were at, and we tried to progress and grow so we could eventually win this in the end,” Eagles coach Kyle Summerfield said. “Obviously we came up short, but I am very proud of all the kids’ efforts from top to bottom.

“We competed in every match and we really did our very best, and you can't ask for anything more from the kids. I'm proud of them for that.”

DCC had won four consecutive Division 1 team titles from 2017-2020. The Shamrocks also captured three straight from 2012-2014.

“There’s a baseline that has been established with our program, but it’s not given to you just because you’re from CC,” Hancock said. “You have to work for it, and overall I’m just really excited for our community. The trophy is where it belongs now.”

Hartland tied the match early at 12-12 with a pin from Dallas Korponic at 120 pounds, but the Shamrocks seized control by winning five of the next six weight classes.

“(Hartland) competed really well, and they flipped a few matches from earlier in the year,” Hancock said. “He does a great job with that team, and that’s the best I’ve seen them compete. That’s a very good program.”

DCC got past fifth-seeded Romeo in the Semifinals 51-10, while Hartland earned a 38-28 win over Rockford. The Shamrocks opened with a Quarterfinal win over Warren De La Salle Collegiate, while the Eagles opened by edging Temperance Bedford 31-28.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) DCC’s Clayton Jones, top, locks up with Hartland’s Gavin Kern at 144 pounds. (Middle) Hartland’s Dallas Korponic and the Shamrocks’ Michael Cannon work for leverage at 120. (Click for more from

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.)