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.
It 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.”
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.
“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 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.)
ROCKFORD – Ben Bennett knew from an early age what he wanted his career path to be.
“I always wanted to coach,” the former Rockford High School wrestling standout said. “I think I have wanted to coach since I was in middle school. I wanted to be a college wrestling coach.”
Bennett, 33, is currently living out his dreams of becoming a collegiate coach as a member of the Central Michigan University wrestling program.
Bennett, one of the most decorated wrestlers in CMU history, is in his 10th season on 32-year coach Tom Borrelli’s staff.
“I was getting ready to graduate, and a position opened up,” Bennett said. “I think Coach Borrelli knew that I really wanted to stay involved in wrestling and get into coaching. I was fortunate enough to slide into that position, and he had enough faith in me to let me stay here.”
Before getting the opportunity to coach, Bennett amassed eight years of unbridled success at the high school and collegiate levels.
He was a three-time Individual Finals champion at Rockford and helped lead the Rams to a Division 1 team championship as a junior.
“I had a really good high school experience, and I really enjoyed wrestling for our head coach at the time, Don Rinehart,” Bennett said. “He coached for a long time, and we always had some very competitive teams.
“In 2007, my junior year, we won the team state duals, but every year we were really competitive and had multiple individual state champions. Those were the type of teams I was able to wrestle on, which made it pretty exciting and pretty fun when you have those types of guys around you.”
After excelling through the junior ranks, Bennett made an immediate impact for the Rams and captured the Division 1 championship at 140 pounds as a freshman.
However, the following year, he took third at 152 after losing a semifinal match 2-1.
That defeat was humbling for Bennett but also showed him how to handle adversity.
“At the time, in my eyes, the world was ending,” Bennett said. “You look back and it probably was more of a positive. It's good to have those things happen to you, and you face some adversity.
“And I think that's more relatable to life rather than just when you win all the time. I did a lot of winning, but when things are really important, sometimes it's good to fail, for things not to go your way because it will probably happen for the rest of your life.
“You have to learn how to respond and come back from that and handle it the right way and just get back to work. At the time, I remember how devastated I was, but looking back it probably was a positive thing long term.”
Bennett wound up collecting two more Individual Finals titles, at 160 and 171 pounds, to end his high school career and then was named Mr. Wrestler, receiving the award given to the top senior wrestler by the state coaches association.
“I wasn't even thinking that I might get that,” he said. “There are so many great high school wrestlers that come out every year, and thinking about the guys I wrestled … to be singled out as the one chosen for that award was pretty special.”
After graduation, Bennett took his talents to Mount Pleasant. He could’ve gone anywhere to wrestle, but found the right fit at CMU.
“I knew I wanted to wrestle in college, and it was close to home, which I liked,” Bennett said. “I didn't feel like I had to go across the country to have an opportunity to accomplish my goals. I felt like I could stay here and do that.”
Bennett is the only four-time All-American in CMU history and one of three Chippewas to have earned four individual Mid-American Conference titles.
Bennett twice earned the Chick Sherwood Award as CMU’s most valuable wrestler and was named the MAC Wrestler of the Year in 2012. He also had earned the MAC Freshman of the Year Award in 2010.
Bennett ranks sixth in CMU history with 121 career victories, and his career win percentage of .834 is fourth all-time. In 2013, he finished 31-2 for a .939 win percentage, the second-best in program history. He also won a school-record 30 consecutive matches during that season and finished a personal-best fourth at the national tournament.
“At the time I was disappointed with how my career went, because I was never a national champion,” Bennett said. “But I think looking back on it, I have a lot more appreciation for what I did.
“As a coach, I realize how hard it is to have success at the college level, and every year you see great wrestlers not make the podium. Sometimes I’m shocked when certain guys don’t place, and it makes me appreciate how hard it is to be a four-time All-American, let alone place one time or multiple times.”
The transition to the coaching side was a difficult process for Bennett, but he knew he wanted to mentor other wrestlers the way his former coaches did with him.
“You put so much into the sport and you realize how much time other people invested and how important it was for me to do well, and so I guess for me it was a hard transition to make,” Bennett said. “You’re so competitive and so focused on yourself, but then being able to help these guys improve, get better and hopefully accomplish their goals was something I was looking forward to doing.
“I had so many people help me do that, and then I was able to be in their shoes and give back to these guys.”
Coaching has kept him involved in a sport he loves.
“And I get to continue to learn and grow and develop in different areas, not just wrestling-wise,” he said. “I get to meet a lot of great people through wrestling and coaching. The guys who come through our program are pretty awesome people.
“I’m pretty fortunate, and I've really enjoyed the coaching side of it, being in the wrestling room with these guys. Getting them ready for a match and going over things after a match. There is a lot that goes into it, but I really enjoy it.”
The love of wrestling for Bennett began at 6 years old, when he was coached by his uncle Tom Bennett – a former Division III All-American – and dad Doug.
“My uncle did a ton for me wrestling-wise, and my dad was the conditioning and discipline-type guy,” Bennett said. “Together it was a good mix. For as long as I can remember, I was always in really good shape. I loved wrestling right away.”
Bennett admits that he probably missed out on a lot when he was younger because he was determined to be the best and his life revolved around wrestling and training.
“It can be a tough way to live, but at the time that's what I wanted to do so that's what I did,” Bennett said. “When I was little my dad always told me that I'm not going to take you across the country to these tournaments if we are not training to win the tournament, not going to fill out the brackets, so my whole life the goal was always to be a champion.
“Going into high school my goal was to be a four-time state champion. I wanted to win the senior nationals, the junior nationals, and I won all those things. Going into college, in my mind, the next step was to be a national champion, and I don't think you realize how hard it really is, and I don't think I realized how hard it was to be an All-American.”
Bennett was promoted to CMU associate head coach last June after spending nine seasons as an assistant. He said the biggest difference with his new position is on the administrative side.
“I do a lot of scheduling and budgeting, things I didn’t do as much before in my years as an assistant coach,” he said. “I’ve taken the reins on some of these things, and it’s good for me to learn.”
Bennett is content with his current role at CMU and continuing to evolve as a coach under Borrelli. However, he hopes to one day take that next step as the head coach of a collegiate program.
“That’s my ultimate goal with coaching,” he said. “When that will happen, I don’t know. I guess I’m not in a hurry. When it happens, it will happen. I’m just trying to learn as much as I can right now.
“Coach Borrelli is an unbelievable coach, leader, mentor and role model, so I’m trying to learn as much as I can from him and soak up as much as I can from him until I get an opportunity somewhere to be a head coach. Right now I'm happy with where I'm at, and when that time comes, it will come.”
Bennett, 33, is engaged to former Chippewas field hockey player Erica Garwood. The couple has been dating for seven years and will get married next month.
“We’re excited, and I’m sure life will really change when we start having kids,” Bennett said. “But it’s good right now. We both went to school here, and she has a good job at an elementary school in town. We enjoy it up here.”
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PHOTOS (Top) Rockford’s Ben Bennett stands atop the podium at the 2008 Individual Finals, and now with fiancé Erica Garwood. (Middle) Bennett wrestles Clarkston’s Adam Lauzun for the Division 1 title at 171 pounds that season. (Current photo courtesy of Ben Bennett; 2008 photos from MHSAA Archives.)