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 HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.)