Brighton Claims 1st Title vs. Familiar Foe

February 28, 2015

By Dan Stickradt
Special for Second Half

BATTLE CREEK — Lee Grabowski must have felt the weight of the world on his shoulders Saturday night.

With his team leading 28-25 heading into the final match at 112, the Brighton sophomore posted a 4-2 victory over a rival who had defeated him twice this season.

Not only was the victory significant for Grabowski, but it resulted in the final points in Brighton’s 31-25 victory over Hartland in the MHSAA Division 1 Final at Kellogg Arena.

The team title was the first for Brighton, which was making its first-ever appearance in the championship match.

“We kind of thought with a few matches to go that it could come down to Grabowski’s match,” admitted Tony Greathouse, Brighton’s second-year coach. “We knew that he could do it. What a way for a sophomore to go in there and beat a kid who had beaten him earlier this season. With that pressure, he stepped up and (delivered). We did not want it to go down to (criteria) points.”

Grabowski lost to Hartland’s 112-pounder by one and three points, respectively, this season in Kensington Lakes Activities Association North competition.

“I knew I could beat him. It’s not like he beat me by all that much (earlier),” smiled Grabowski. “The last time he beat me by a point, so I had to stay on top of him.

Brighton (29-1) lost a point three matches earlier for unsportsmanlike conduct. If the meet would have ended in a 28-28 draw, Hartland would have won on the criteria.

Grabowski and the Bulldogs didn’t leave that for chance. 

Brighton, ranked No. 1 in the state the whole season, had taken down Hartland in their previous meetings this season, defeating the third-ranked Eagles (31-4) by a 38-18 count in mid-January. The Bulldogs also defeated Hartland at the KLAA Championships. 

Brighton walked into Kellogg Arena with 10 senior starters, but the platform for a title run had long since been put into place. The Bulldogs also had plenty of motivation, losing to Hartland in last year’s District Final.

“I think looking back on that day, we had plenty of motivation for this season — no doubt,” noted Greathouse. “With all of the seniors we have on this team, they talked about coming back this season and contending for a state championship. They stepped up this season and accomplished that goal.

“But it just didn’t happen overnight,” continued Greathouse. “I have only been here for two years. I like to think that I have helped. But Sam Amine was here for 10 seasons before and he really laid the foundation for all of this, getting Brighton to become such a strong program. We have only added to it. The kids on this team put in all of the hard work to make this possible.”

Brighton opened this season with a convincing victory over three-time reigning Division 1 champion Detroit Catholic Central, and the Bulldogs took over the top spot in the rankings right after that signature win.

On the other side, Hartland, one of Michigan’s most successful wrestling programs over the past quarter century, claimed its fifth runner-up trophy. The Eagles made their 14th straight trip to the Quarterfinals and 16th total in 23 seasons.

This also marked Hartland’s 11th Semifinal appearance since 2004.

“It does hurt now,” sighed Hartland coach Todd Cheney, who took over the program in 1993. “I know we have a lot coming back next season with only two senior starters. But we came close again. We lost a couple of matches that we could have won and won a couple of other swing matches. But you have to win more matches at the state finals and Brighton won eight of them.”

Brighton led 12-0 after three matches, only to see Hartland go on a 22-0 run for a 22-12 advantage through eight weight classes. 

A technical fall win from Beau Mourer (171) and a void victory from Nick Brish (189) put Brighton back up 23-22 with four matches to go — and the Bulldogs never relinquished the lead.

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PHOTO: Brighton and Hartland wrestlers grapple for position during Saturday’s Division 1 Final. (Click to see more at

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.)