Bay City John Glenn Continues Climb, Seeking Next Step As Finals Contender

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

December 21, 2022

In each year of Matt Bishop’s time as head coach of the Bay City John Glenn wrestling program, the team has taken a step forward.

Bay & ThumbIt won the Bay County Championship in Year 1. Won a District championship in Year 2. Advanced to the Regional Final in Year 3, where it lost a tight dual against Gaylord. 

So, while the goal now of winning a Regional and earning the program’s first trip to the Division 2 Team Wrestling Finals may look more like a leap from the outside, it’s just another step to the Bobcats.

“We’ve had stepping stones the last four years,” junior captain Garett Forgash said. “It used to be the county tournament, then Districts, now it’s Regionals. Every time, we’re going to find that new stepping stone.”

John Glenn looks like a team poised to take that next step. The Bobcats are ranked No. 4 in Division 2, and already have another Bay County Championship and a dual victory against Gaylord under their belt this season.

They’re led by returning all-state finishers Forgash, who placed seventh a year ago, and sophomore Connor Greer, who was runner-up at 112 pounds and didn’t lose a match until the Final.

Seven other returnees were Regional qualifiers, including senior captains Lane Huizar – another Individual Finals qualifier – and Aidan Lupisella. 

But beyond that is a roster that has ballooned to 44 wrestlers and bought into what Bishop is preaching – work hard, focus on doing the right things on and off the mat rather than winning or losing, and success will eventually come.

“I think a lot of it has to do with our youth program, and them seeing our success, especially with winning Counties,” Lupisella said. “Every year, we’ve seen this steady little incline, and this year, we grew probably close to 20 kids. I think a big part is our success and the way we carry ourselves. I think people want to be around that. Everyone is attracted to success, and everyone is attracted to being classy. When people see that, they want to be part of it.”

John Glenn’s Garett Forgash (gray singlet) works toward a pin. That’s something Bishop and his coaching staff had to build. The former all-state wrestler came back to his alma mater as an assistant coach for the 2018-19 season, and took over as head coach the next year. 

Before John Glenn was taking any steps on the mat, steps were being taken behind the scenes to improve. That started with the school’s administration, which gave the Bobcats their own space to practice – including a locker room and daily transportation – at the district’s administration building. 

Bishop also has built a coaching staff he feels can help move his program forward. It includes Collin Webber, who he called one of the best young coaches in the state, and former Corunna coach Chad Briggs, who is coaching the middle school program. 

“Last year and this year, we’ve been able to grow that staff to about 10 guys; it’s been good,” Bishop said. “When you have some success, people tend to want to be a part of that program, and we’re starting to see that a little more in the last year or two. We had to build our middle school program. Our middle school numbers when I started were around 10 to 12 kids. Now, we’re close to 50.”

Then there’s the constant build of the program’s culture, which Bishop stresses above all else.

Lane Huizar establishes control during his match. “It’s really important for us to realize this is a high school sport, and keep that in perspective as much as we can,” he said. “We want to win. I’m probably as competitive as anyone out there. In order for us to do that at the highest levels, we have to not worry about winning and losing. … It’s hard, especially for kids that had a lot of success at a young age. But for us, it’s about competing a certain way, training a certain way, and letting the chips fall where they may.”

As those chips continue to fall in the Bobcats’ favor, Bishop and his staff have been able to focus more on some of the little things needed to help the program take its next step.

That includes hammering home the importance of getting – and not giving up – bonus points in a tight dual, and just generally dealing with the pressure that comes with that. Multiple discussions have had that focus over the past two years, as has John Glenn’s schedule, which has become much tougher as the team strives for bigger goals.

“When we got through Districts (in 2021), it was a nice celebration, and we felt good about ourselves,” Lupisella said. “At Regionals, I felt that maybe we didn’t put our best foot forward. We gave up a bunch of bonus points. I think what kind of moved us forward to be able to compete better was coaches talking to us every day and building our confidence. Telling us that we’re up there with the top teams. And the fact that we had gotten through the District and it was in our rearview mirror, we could now focus on the next step.”

The Bobcats aren’t taking anything for granted, but they also aren’t shying away from talking about taking that step and securing a trip Feb. 24 to Kalamazoo for Team Finals weekend. 

And recent history has shown that when a stepping stone is ahead, John Glenn finds a way to get there.

“It’s what we’ve been working for since I’ve been here, is going to the state team tournament,” Huizar said. “It’d be pretty awesome.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Bay City John Glenn’s Aidan Lupisella attempts to escape from the grasp of a Saginaw Swan Valley opponent. (Middle) John Glenn’s Garett Forgash (gray singlet) works toward a pin. (Below) Lane Huizar establishes control during his match. (Photos by Maddy Huizar.)

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.)