Brother's Memory Sparks Kent City Champ

March 7, 2015

By Butch Harmon
Special for Second Half

AUBURN HILLS – For Kent City senior Shane Rodenburg, winning this year’s MHSAA Finals title was not something he was doing just for himself.

He also was taking the mat with his younger brother Brendon in his heart.

Brendon, only 16, died unexpectedly Sept. 22. Bringing a 58-0 record into his 171-pound Division 4 title match against Nick Cooper of Springport, Shane Rodenburg capped off a year of wrestling that he will never forget by outlasting Cooper for a 3-0 decision.

“I don’t know what to say,” Rodenburg said, “just that this is the greatest day of my life so far. I’ve went through a lot of adversity this year, and it is such a great feeling to win it.”

Rodenburg was a three-time Finals placer coming into this weekend, having finished fifth as a freshman, third as a sophomore  and second last year. Last year’s second-place finish was a special one for Rodenburg as Brendon also made it to the medal stand, finishing sixth at 140 pounds as a sophomore.

“This title was for him,” Shane said. “I’ve always wanted to be a state champion. This one was just not for me. He was with me, and it’s for him too. This is pretty special. It feels real good.”


Champion: Seth Harvey, Addison, Soph. (49-7)
Decision, 5-2, over Anthony Mack, Dansville, Fr. (49-3)

An early takedown paved the way for Harvey, who took the early lead and made it hold for the victory.

“It feels like I’m on cloud nine,” Harvey said, “maybe even higher than that. Getting that first takedown was big.”

After securing the takedown, Harvey built on the lead with a three-point near-fall as he utilized a cradle to get the three points.

“I’ve been working on my cradle a lot in practice,” Harvey said. “I’ve had a lot of help from my coaches and teammates. I’ve had some problems with it and the extra work paid off.”


Champion: Alex Baker, Carson City-Crystal, Sr. (30-5)
Fall, 6:45, over Robert LeFevre, Erie-Mason, Soph. (26-3)

For Baker, a senior, winning an MHSAA title came with other benefits. Like a 2014 Chevy Cruze.

“At the start of the season my grandpa (Joseph Nagel) told me he would buy me a car if I won a state title,” Baker said. “My grandpa is my idol. He is a person who has come from nothing and has proven you can accomplish anything in life. I want to be just like my grandpa.”

Baker’s grandpa couldn’t be prouder of what his grandson accomplished. Not only did he win a title, but he did it in thrilling fashion with a fall in overtime.

Like his grandfather, Baker also proved that you can accomplish anything with hard work and desire. While he has qualified for the Finals the last two years, he had yet to win a match at the tournament prior to this year.

“I’ve come a long way,” Baker said. “I just worked real hard, and I got stronger. This last two weeks I worked my butt off getting ready for this. Winning the state title is pretty wild.”’


Champion: Logan Griffin, Erie-Mason, Sr. (42-0)
Decision, 8-2, over Ethan Woods, Manchester, Soph. (43-9)

For Griffin, it was the perfect way to wrap up a season. Not only did the Erie-Mason senior win a third MHSAA title, but he also finished the season with a perfect record.

“It’s just amazing,” Griffin said. “It’s a great feeling to win it three times.”

Griffin jumped out to an early lead and never looked back as he won his final high school match to finish his career with a 157-7 record. Griffin will continue his wrestling career at Michigan State University next season.

“This is one of the happiest moments in my life,” Griffin said. “It was a little more pressure winning it this year. My first year winning it I had a shoulder injury. This year I was healthy, and if felt great.”


Champion: Dallas O’Green, Carson City-Crystal, Jr. (58-1)
Decision, 2-0, over Clay Ragon, Dansville, Jr. (53-5)

O’Green scored a pair of points in the second period, and that was all he needed.

“My key was not to let him get out of bounds,” O’Green said. “I just tried to keep him in the middle of the mat.”

O’Green won the first of three titles earned by Carson City-Crystal wrestlers on the day.

“We just work so hard in practice,” O’Green said. “Every practice we just go in there and work hard. It feels great to see all that hard work pay off.”


Champion: Dresden Simon, Dansville, Jr. (58-0)
Decision, 3-2, over Lamont Cannon, Highland Park, Sr. (26-2)

Simon was pushed to the brink but held on to not only win a championship but finish the season with an undefeated record. Up 3-2, Simon survived a late takedown attempt by Cannon to clinch the title.

“It was a little too close for comfort at the end,” Simon said. “I thought I outwrestled him throughout the match, but he was able to keep it close.”

Winning for his school also was meaningful for Simon.

“Winning the state title is pretty special,” Simon said. “We don’t get many state champions coming through Dansville.”  


Champion: Kyle Barkovich, Lawton, Sr. (55-2)
Fall, 5:18, over Gerrit Yates, Hesperia, Fr. (51-4)

Time was running out for Barkovich, who needed some late dramatics to finish his high school career with a win in his final match.

Trailing Yates 8-4, Barkovich recorded a pin with less than a minute remaining.

“I was sweating it,” Barkovich said. “(Yates) was wrestling well, and I knew I was running out of time. I knew I had to do something fast. I got a left underhook to a headlock and took him down. It couldn’t be a better feeling (winning a title).” 


Champion Cole Menck, Lawton, Sr. (53-2)
Decision, 3-2, over Trenton Roesly, Hesperia, Sr. (39-6)

Menck followed his teammate Barkovich on the mat and came away with a second straight title for Lawton. Like Barkovich, Menck also won a tight match over a Hesperia wrestler.

“That last escape won it,” Menck said. “There was about 30 seconds left in the match, and I knew I had to score.”

The win was extra special for Menck, one of three Lawton wrestlers who came away with championships.

“It means a lot to our program,” Menck said. “Hopefully this will pull some more kids into the program. We are graduating eight or nine seniors this year.”     


Champion: Steven Garza, New Lothrop, Jr. (42-0)
Decision, 7-2, over Mason Lopinski, Hudson, Jr. (39-7)

Garza and Lopinski were no strangers, having met in last weekend’s Division 4 Team Final in Battle Creek. Garza came out with a win last weekend, and he claimed the win again this weekend to earn his first individual title.

“Last week I was wrestling for the team,” Garza said. “I was trying to get bonus points to help our team. This week I was wrestling for myself. I didn’t have to try for bonus points, so I didn’t have to try anything crazy.”

Not only did Garza win team and individual MHSAA championships this season, he also ended the year with a perfect record.

“Winning the title by myself is nice,” Garza said, “but the team title was more important. We are all united like a family at the team state.”


Champion: Hunter Bell, Decatur, Sr. (58-1)
Decision, 10-4 over Darren Decker, Carson City-Crystal, Sr. (56-3)

Bell knew the question was coming, but this time it had to feel a little bit better.

Bell, whose older brother Luke won three MHSAA championships for Decatur from 2010-12, finally joined Luke with a title of his own.

“The first question was not what I wanted to answer,” Bell said. “Every time I win something, the first question is always about my brother winning also. This feels good. I’ve been working hard for this but have come up short the last couple of years.”


Champion: Dillen Decker, Carson City-Crystal, Sr. (58-0)
Decision, 15-6, over Joey Durham, Blanchard Montabella, Sr. (48-5)

After watching his twin brother Darren come up short in the previous match, Dillen Decker was on a mission when he hit the mat at 160 pounds.

“I was fired up a little bit,” Decker said. “We’ve been wrestling together since the third grade. We just fell in love with the sport. After seeing his match, I was just fired up to get out there.”

The win capped an undefeated season for Decker, who was one of three Carson City-Crystal wrestlers to claim MHSAA titles.

“This feels good,” Decker said. “I put a lot of hard work into this. I placed third as a sophomore and fourth as a junior, so I really wanted this.”


Champion: Brody Conner, Lawton, Sr. (58-0)
Decision, 4-2, over Caleb Symons, New Lothrop, Jr. (49-2)

Conner gave Lawton its third individual title of the day when he held off Symons 4-2. Trailing 2-1 at the end of the first period, Conner scored three points during the second to claim the win.

Conner placed fifth as a sophomore and third as a junior. This season he had to overcome a midseason illness to make it back to The Palace.

“I had to work through a little adversity this year,” Conner said. “I had a throat condition that made it hard to breath around the middle of the season. It was a difficult season, but I pushed through it.”


Champion: Jacob Cooper, Springport, Sr. (55-0)
Decision, 3-1, over Kevin Koenig, Laingsburg, Jr. (56-2)

It was a matchup of wrestlers who had won a combined three MHSAA titles and were both champions last year. The match was as close as one would expect, with Cooper claiming a 3-1 decision to finish his senior season with a perfect record.

The title was the third in a row for Cooper, who will be wrestling for Michigan State next season.

“The first state title was the most memorable,” Cooper said. “I knew I had to stay in control in this match. This was just a great way to go out.”

With a couple of MHSAA titles under his belt, Cooper did not have as many nerves to battle this time.

“It really helps having been here before,” Cooper said. “You are still a little nervous because at the state finals anything can happen.”


Champion: Ryan Prescott, Whittemore-Prescott, Sr. (31-0)
Decision, 9-0, over David Robertson, New Lothrop, Sr. (45-6)

Prescott capped a glittering high school career with his third straight MHSAA championship. He has not tasted defeat since his sophomore season and finished his career with a 151-4 record, having been an MHSAA runner-up as a freshman before his title run.

“This one is a relief,” Prescott said. “When the match was over and I finally won, it was such a relief. I was so glad to make my family happy and proud and make my community happy and proud.”

A three-sport athlete at Whittemore-Prescott, Ryan will be continuing his wrestling career at Northern Illinois University.

“I will be celebrating this with my mom and dad (Dennis and Elizabeth),” Prescott said. “They have been through this all the way with me. This is my last high school match and it’s a little tear-jerker at times. All of my hopes and dreams that I’ve had since a young child have come true.”

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PHOTO: Kent City’s Shane Rodenburg (gray singlet) works toward his MHSAA championship victory at 171 pounds Saturday. (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.)