Bark River-Harris Honing In on Historic Opportunity

By John Vrancic
Special for

March 16, 2021

HARRIS — The Bark River-Harris wrestlers are gearing up for what they hope will be a historic postseason run.

BR-H will try to take the first step toward its goal when it travels to Manistique for the Division 4 Team District on Thursday.

Reigning District champ BR-H (21-2) faces the host Emeralds, and Iron Mountain meets Newberry at 6 p.m. The winners advance to the championship match at 7:30.

"This is definitely the best season we've had as a varsity program," said fourth-year coach Joe Racicot. "At the beginning of the season with the number of kids we had coming back, we thought we could be up near the top. Although, I wasn't sure we'd be 21-2. Many of the teams are shorthanded, although we're winning more matches than we're losing. We're heading in the right direction."

If the Broncos win the District, they would host the Team Regional for the first time March 24.

"It's going to be a challenge," said Racicot. "I have the utmost respect for the other coaches in our District. I've learned a lot from them. All of them are good friends and mentors to me. I'm one of the few coaches who didn't wrestle in high school because we didn't have a program here at that time. Although, it didn't take me long to fall in love with the sport."

Last year, the Broncos were crowned District champs for the first time in their 10-year history before falling to Onaway in a Regional opener.

Powers North Central sophomore Drew Allgeyer, who wrestles at BR-H through a co-op venture, is 23-0.

"We've been working hard," said Allgeyer, who will be wrestling at 160 pounds in the District and finished seventh at last season’s Finals at 145. "We have good practice partners and push each other every day. We're all helping each other to be the best we can be, which definitely pays off in competition.

"I have the strength for 171. I've been wrestling at 171 most of the year which helps me a lot,” he added. “All I want to do is have good matches. I always say I don't lose, I learn. There's always somebody better than you. That's big motivation right there."

Both of BR-H's losses this winter were to Division 2 Escanaba.

"We lost to them by six and 12 points," said Allgeyer. "They're the best team in the U.P., and they're well-coached. It's good for us to put up as much of a fight as we did, although none of this will mean anything once we get into the postseason when it really counts. Iron Mountain has a solid team. They and all the other teams will put their best lineup out there."

North Central junior Wyatt Raab (215) is 18-0 going into the postseason.

"This is the first time Bark River-Harris has had a chance to go to the state tournament as a team," he said. "We could also have the most individual qualifiers in school history. We're looking to make a lot of special trips this year.”

BR-H freshman Noah Gagne is pleasantly surprised by the Broncos' record.

"We have a lot of young guys this year," he added. "I thought we'd be pretty good, but not this good. Esky was definitely our toughest competition, and I think Iron Mountain is closer to us. “This has definitely been a learning experience for me. The older guys have been teaching me a lot of things. I've learned to be more confident. They told me to 'know what you're doing and try to listen to your coaches and teammates during a match.'"

Junior Avry Corrigan joined Allgeyer at last season’s Individual Finals. The Broncos this winter also have four girls, including junior captain Katie Viau and Melody Racicot who will be wrestling in Sunday's Michigan Wrestling Association girls state tournament at Highland.

"It's nice to see that growing," said coach Racicot. "We hope to eventually get a girls tournament in the U.P."

John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTO: Drew Allgeyer’s arm is raised in victory after one of his wins last season during the Individual Finals at Ford Field. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)

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.)