Brothers' Success Just Start for Beaverton

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

November 28, 2018

In a movie, this season and the future of the Beaverton wrestling program would be the epilogue, explained to us with words on the screen while triumphant music played.

When Eric and Kyle Cassiday won Division 4 individual MHSAA championships in back-to-back matches last season with their father Bryan – who had started the program four years earlier – coaching matside, the script could have been completed.

“It’s one of the top five moments of my entire life,” said Kyle Cassiday, now a senior at Beaverton. “(After my match) all I could focus on was Eric – he went through so much with injuries, so to see him win it was amazing.”

But while the Cassidays are certainly at the heart of the program, creating this program wasn’t just about them. And there are plenty more memories to be made.

“I wanted to provide an opportunity for the kids who had been through the youth program, and those that wanted to join, to at least experience what I experienced in high school wrestling,” Bryan Cassiday said. “We were all brothers, and I wanted them to get to be able to do that. We had a lot of help (from outside the program). We’ve had a lot of people helping to influence a lot of different kids. It’s been a wonderful experience.”

Bryan Cassiday is a Gladwin graduate who coached the youth program there. That included his sons Eric, Kyle and Jacob, who started when they were elementary and preschool age. Bryan continued to coach when the family moved to Beaverton, but there appeared to be a cap on how much time they could be involved with the sport and attend their new school, as Beaverton didn’t have a wrestling program.

When Eric was about to enter high school, the Cassidays started looking at options to transfer, going as far as having a family vote at the dinner table. Kyle voted for Beaverton. Little did he or his family know that was about to become an option.

“Some of the football coaches came to me and said, ‘What would it take to start a program?’” Bryan Cassiday said. “We put together some numbers on what it would cost, did some fundraising, and started one.”

For the kids, it was a relief.

“I was so happy,” Kyle said. “I didn’t want to leave my friends. They deserved to wrestle as much as we did. It was more than just for me.”

That first season, Beaverton had 12 or 13 wrestlers, Bryan Cassiday said, including a solid core of youth wrestlers who were finally able to stay at their home school, like Eric. 

By Year 3 of the program, the three boys all were part of it, with Jacob as a freshman, Kyle a sophomore and Eric a junior. 

Wrestling was and is a way of life for the Cassidays, who have a mat in the garage to train – or settle a dispute, even if that was rare and mostly in the past.

“It doesn’t matter what season it is, we’re always looking forward to wrestling,” said Jacob Cassiday, who was a Finals qualifier at 152 pounds a year ago. “We don’t wrestle much in the house. We broke a couple light fixtures, then that stopped.”

For Jacob, growing up as the youngest of four children (they have an older sister, Brooke, who is 21), allowed him to learn quite a bit.

“I’ve always been the smaller one, and I’ve always had to work hard,” he said. “I never had it easy, and they never did either. I was a little pudgy, and they helped me get into shape, then helped me with getting through wrestling. They taught me how to work hard. My oldest brother Eric had probably the best motivation I’ve ever seen. He was always in the weight room or on the mat or on the football field. There was no offseason. And, of course, they taught me how to be humble, because there’s always someone out there who’s better.”

The older brothers got to see each other plenty in practice, as Kyle was at 189 pounds and Eric at 215 a year ago. 

“We’re both really competitive – we love to win, it’s what we strive to do,” Kyle said. “Halfway through the year, we started to change our perspective and realized we had a chance at winning. We would point each other to different techniques. Sometimes it got pretty intense, and we’d get pretty heated.”

Brotherly tensions aren’t something Dad worries much about spilling over, though.

“Really very rarely did they ever have problems,” Bryan said. “There was a point in the season when I was trying to get everybody on edge a little bit, and there were a couple times I had to separate them, but nothing out of control; you could just tell they were wanting it. Generally speaking, to be very honest, I’ve seen siblings that argue and fight – my kids don’t do that. They hunt together, they wrestle together, they do pretty much everything together.”

They eventually won Division 4 titles together. At last winter’s Finals at Ford Field, Kyle defeated TJ Rizor of Leroy Pine River 8-1 in the 189-pound final, while Eric followed with a 4-0 win against Chase Gibson of Bronson at 215. 

“There will never be a way, honestly, to describe what happened,” Bryan said. “I couldn’t talk. I was having a hard time coping with it, to be honest with you. It’s hard to become a state champion. It was the culmination of the years and years of hard work and the passion they put into it. They continued to work, and they got paid in the end.”

Kyle said his championship wouldn’t have meant nearly as much had his brother not won. It’s something they’ll be able to talk about when they’re 40, he said. 

But there’s more work to do for all of the Cassidays and the program as a whole. Eric, who is now a freshman at Saginaw Valley State University, comes back home to help his dad coach. Kyle is looking to repeat as a Finals champ, and Jacob wants to take the next step at Ford Field and make his way onto the podium.

The program itself has more building to do, but it does have a solid core heading into this year as Cameron Austin and Jack Owens (fifth last season at 171) join the younger Cassidays as returning Finals qualifiers. For now, the top priority, Bryan Cassiday said, is improving every day.

In just four years, Beaverton wrestling has started to make a name for itself. Growing that name, Kyle Cassiday said, would be an even greater accomplishment that the incredible end to last season.

“I’d be more proud of building a successful program than a championship because it’s an end result,” he said. “It will be creating something for more than just me. It would be for a lot of different people.”

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) Kyle Cassiday celebrates as he’s signaled the winner of last season’s Division 4 championship match at 189 pounds. (Middle) Eric and Kyle Cassiday share an embrace after Eric followed up with the win at 215 at Ford Field. (Click to see more from

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.)