Bullock Creek's Brooks Turns Heartbreak Into Motivation

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

December 9, 2021

It didn’t take long for Peyton Brooks to turn disappointment into motivation.

This past spring, he was undefeated and ranked No. 1 in Division 3 at 152 pounds, but on the day before the Regional tournament, the Bullock Creek star had his junior season cut short because of a positive COVID-19 test on the team. 

“I got home, and I was kind of disappointed and I was really down on myself for about a day,” Brooks said. “I saw no point in feeling that way, so I actually started using that feeling to better myself for the next year.”

It’s now next year, and Brooks – a Finals runner-up in 2020 – is focused on putting himself in a position to finish what he started and reach the top of the podium.

“I think I’ve been putting a little bit of extra work in, going harder in practice,” he said. “I want to make sure I do everything right. I know it’s my senior year, and it’s my last chance to win a state championship, so I want to do everything to make sure that happens.”

Brooks seemed to have done all he could a year ago, as well. He was 24-0 through the Individual District, and had helped lead Bullock Creek to its first Team District title in 10 years. In the District Final, he defeated Sanford Meridian’s Nick Dodman 5-2. Dodman went on to win the Individual Finals title at 152.

But as the Lancers were going through their final day of preparation for the Individual Regional, one team member’s rapid test came back positive. The timing meant there was no way for Brooks, or his teammates who were close contacts, to get cleared.

“Last year was a crazy year all the way around,” Bullock Creek coach Alan Curtis said. “There were a lot of other teams that got hit earlier in the season than we did. We just happened to catch it at the end of the season. It’s kind of like everybody was waiting for it to happen, but hoping it didn’t. There’s really not much you can say, and it’s really nobody’s fault. It is what it is. We kind of looked at every option we had to get him down there, but when it came down to it, our hands were tied.”

While Brooks was disappointed in how things ended, he remained positive about the season.

Bullock Creek wrestling“Personally, I was just happy to have a season,” he said. “We started two or three months late – we started in February when the postseason would normally be – so I tried not to take any meet or anything for granted. I felt like I had a chance of not being able to compete at all.”

Not taking things for granted is something Brooks has carried into this winter. His work ethic has always been exemplary, Curtis said, but there is an added focus as Brooks prepares for his final wrestling season.

“Right from the first practice of the season, he stays after every practice – he gets guys to stay after and work with him,” Curtis said. “He goes through our whole practice, then he stays after another half hour with whoever he can get.”

Wrestling isn’t the only thing Brooks excels at, as he also was a standout running back and linebacker for the Bullock Creek football team. He said he’s keeping his options open in terms of playing at the next level, as he hasn’t decided which sport he will continue. Playing both, though, has been a benefit.

“I think they both helped me in both sports,” said Brooks, who also is a sprinter on the track team. “I think wrestling has helped me more with football. It’s made me a better athlete with my work ethic, athleticism, balance, speed and footwork. It’s really made me a better player.”

With his focus on football through the fall, there is the challenge of getting down to weight for Brooks. He plays at about 180 pounds on the gridiron but plans to wrestle at 160 for the majority of this season. A drop to 152 also isn’t out of the question.

“He’s one that I never have to worry about his weight,” Curtis said. “He knows what he needs to do, and he doesn’t starve himself. He does it the right way. He works out on his own at home. His work ethic is phenomenal.”

No matter the weight Brooks comes in at, he figures to be among the favorites to win an individual title. If he’s able to pull it off, he admitted the combination of it being his senior year and the events of a year ago would make it that much more special.

His coach agreed.

“I think it would be amazing,” Curtis said. “He doesn’t normally show a lot of emotion, but I think that would get to him, because he’s worked so hard.

“He should have had it last year. I don’t know if he feels like he was robbed, but he knows he should have won it last year. That’s going to give that extra drive this year to get it done.”

Paul CostanzoPaul 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) Midland Bullock Creek’s Peyton Brooks, far right, raises his hand signifying a win last winter. (Middle) Brooks attempts to bring down an opponent during the 2020 Individual Finals. (Photos provided by the Bullock Creek wrestling program.)

Constantine Football All-Stater, Wrestling Champ Aiming for Grand Finale

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)