Constantine Proving Its Power as Postseason Approaches

By Wes Morgan
Special for

March 2, 2021

Excuses are not permitted inside the Constantine High School wrestling room. 

Despite being 15-1 with wins over several top-10 teams in the state, the Falcons are not among the programs ranked in Division 3 as of March 2. Constantine has defeated three of the best teams (Bronson, Union City and Lawton) in Division 4 so far this year and boasts four returning Individual Finals qualifiers. 

But because Constantine has been tripped up at Team Regionals since 2013, seventh-year head coach Dale Davidhizar believes his squad has more to prove before it gets the recognition it might deserve. 

A shortened season due to COVID-19, which eliminated big weekend tournaments that best prepare athletes for the grueling postseason, won’t be used as a defense for individuals or the team coming up short this month. 

“With our senior leadership that we have, I think the kids will be ready to go and rolling without a problem,” Davidhizar said. “We’ve filled our team schedule with some pretty good teams throughout the year.”

Two of those seniors, both captains, have endured plenty of adversity. Neither one of them has let it derail them. Due to various injuries over the years and waiting their turns behind talented upperclassmen, Gage Ensign (152 pounds) and Isaac Hall (189) finally reached 100 career victories in February as they eye returns to the Finals.

Ensign placed seventh in Division 3 in 2019 at 130 pounds and opted not to duck anyone the following year as a junior. In 2020, a stacked Division 3 Regional at 140 pounds resulted in four wrestlers eventually snagging the first, second, third and fifth podium positions at Ford Field at the championship. Ensign was not one of them. 

“He wanted to stay in the toughest weight class in the state in any region,” Davidhizar said of Ensign’s competitiveness. “He took on the challenge and fell a little short. Those were some seriously tough kids he went after.”

At 12-1 this year, Ensign, who’s battling a nagging injury, hopes to finish out his career with a strong run at 152. 

“This year I’m an underdog,” Ensign said. “I sort of embrace it, and I feel more relaxed in practice and in meets. I have nothing to lose now. I was pretty dang happy (to reach 100 wins) because I didn’t know if I was going to be able to wrestle this year. I’m just happy to be able to be on the mat.”

Constantine wrestling 2Hall stepped up as a freshman at 171 and finished around .500. He missed time as a sophomore due to an injury — about a third of the season — but accumulated more than 40 victories in 2020 at 189 en route to a fourth-place Finals finish. Hall dropped his opening match by fall in the first period but went on to win four consecutive bouts in the consolation rounds. He’s currently 16-0.

“I’m very happy that he got to that milestone (100 wins),” Davidhizar said. “For him to reach that milestone is a huge deal for him and his whole family. It really shows the work he has put in. Without putting too much pressure on him, I feel he should be in the Finals. He’s the only returning state placer at 189 in Division 3. He’s put in even more work this year. Troy Demas has really been able to push him past some barriers, and it’s going to show at the end of the year.”

Hall broke through with his 100th win against Vicksburg, bumping up to 215 to avoid a victory by forfeit. 

“I was just excited to get back to wrestling and prove what I could do this year,” Hall said. “I wanted my 100th win to be a real match, not a void. It was pretty awesome. I wish I would have hit it sooner, but I’m glad I made it there. 

“I’m confident we will make it to team state this year. I don’t know what it’s like to make it to state (as a team), and I’d like to experience that. Individually, I’d like to make it to the Finals and get that state championship.”

Boe Eckman has been dinged up this year, but he’s another Falcons senior leader with a wealth of Finals experience. At 215, Eckman was edged by two points in the Division 3 title match last year by Richmond’s Luke Davis. Eckman racked up three pins on his way to the championship bout. 

While trying to get healthy this year, the Falcons have gotten a boost from freshman Bennett VandenBerg, who has bounced between 215 and 189 and has racked up double-digit wins already. 

Senior Dylan Reiff made it to Ford Field last year at 130 and finished eighth. He’s 14-2 this season at the same weight class. Sophomore Troy Demas (171) and junior Eric Demas are both 14-2, and senior Chuck Taylor has a 15-1 record. 

“Our practices, they go hard,” Davidhizar said. “It shows the level of skill those kids bring in and getting some of those freshmen and sophomores to the level of state qualifiers and state placers. Dylan Reiff hadn’t wrestled in three years and he came in last year for the first time and was a state placer. I attribute that to wrestling with Gage and Eric Demas. I attribute that to practice partners and how the guys practice in our room. 

“Boe Eckman and Isaac Hall have been practice partners since seventh grade. Isaac works his tail off to get where he is now, but Boe has helped him along tremendously. Boe had the higher skill when Isaac was just starting out, and now Isaac has gotten to that point. That’s teammates working hard together. Kids are pushing everyone in the room.”

With a seasoned group in the upper weights and some pieces falling into place in the lighter slots, Constantine continues to gain momentum as the season winds down. 

“I thought, as a whole, we were probably going to be one of the best teams that I’ve coached in the seven years since I’ve taken over the high school (program),” Davidhizar said. “We’re pretty solid. With our senior leadership that we have with our five core seniors, I thought we were going to be pretty tough to handle for anybody in the state.”

Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Constantine’s Gage Ensign faces off with an opponent this season. (Middle) Isaac Hall’s arm is raised in victory, one of more than 100 during his career. (Photos by Terena Reif.) 

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.)