Cushman: Good to Great to 101 Straight

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

February 14, 2018

Flushing’s Ben Cushman wanted to be better than good on the wrestling mat.

After his sophomore season ended in at the MHSAA Finals, one win shy of the podium and all-state honors, Cushman decided to do everything he could to become great – to be able to compete with the state’s elite.

One hundred and one straight victories, one Division 1 individual title and a signed letter of intent to Central Michigan University later, it’s safe to say he’s accomplished that.

“I think a lot of it was just getting beat,” Cushman said. “I got beat by Brendan McRill (a former MHSAA champion from Davison), and just always got beat by guys like him. I just changed up my whole technique. Before I was just always shooting double legs. I didn’t really have a good takedown that was effective against other wrestlers.

“I really looked at a lot of film, looked at all the mistakes I made and what I could have done better.”

Cushman won the Division 1 title at 215 pounds as a junior, becoming Flushing’s first Finals champion since 2000. He’s 45-0 as a senior this winter, and he recently won a District title to keep alive his opportunity for a run at a repeat championship, although this season he’s back at 189 pounds.

He has yet to be taken down this season, allowing only escape points to his opponents through those 45 matches. He’s only been taken down once in the past two years. It’s a stunning run of dominance, and to those looking in from the outside, it appeared to come out of nowhere.

“He’s been around (wrestling) for a long time, so most people in Michigan knew who he was,” Flushing coach Andy Rishmawi said. “I think he surprised people in the way he went about it. He wrestled a lot of good kids, and last year we put him up against everybody, and he went undefeated and had one offensive point scored on him all year. So to me, I think the way he went about it, I think that surprised some people.”

It wasn’t a surprise to Rishmawi and Cushman, however, as they saw what he went through each day to get there.

“Coming into his junior year, he was just focused and ready, and working out all the time,” Rishmawi said. “In the weight room, on the mat, working on his form, working on his technique, just really understanding more how you do certain things. There was a huge growth in him.”

While Cushman was working to add more to his repertoire, the focus remained on simple things – and doing those simple things incredibly well.

“We would just take it day by day,” he said. “There was one thing that Coach would want me to work on, which is just pulling the elbow. We would do that for a half hour straight until I got it down perfectly, and when we would wrestle live, I would work on other moves off of that. I kept doing that until it became second nature.”

Rishmawi said the raw ability was always there with Cushman, calling him freakishly strong while at the same time extremely coachable. Because of the latter, Cushman has been able to maintain that same level of focus in practice, despite the fact he’s already established his dominance in the state.

“When you’ve dominated people and you’ve had such a good run, you wouldn’t expect to have coaches still screaming in your ear about a move you might have done wrong,” Rishmawi said. “Let’s say he’s doing a 30-second drill. We know that the person he’s wrestling against can’t keep up with him, so he needs to get six takedowns instead of five. During sprints, we’re in his face. While he’s working on a move, we’re in his face. He understands, ‘They’re really trying to help me.’”

Cushman has remained motivated, in part, by the fact he knows he has to improve to be successful when he goes to Central Michigan. He also knows that in this sport, losing his focus for one second could end this run.

“I just know that in order to get to that stage, you need to wrestle each and every match one match at a time,” he said. “You can’t advance to the state Finals without winning Districts. I really just try to stay humble, and I give the glory to God, because I know that’s why I’m doing this.”

But the training isn’t just about holding off hungry competition, it’s about feeding Cushman’s own hunger, the same that burned inside him in 2016.

“Everyone wants to knock the king off the mountain, and this year people have taken the approach, ‘I’ve got nothing to lose, this is a state champion, I’m supposed to lose,’ so they really go after me,” Cushman said. “My coach reminds me every day, ‘You’re chasing something, too. You want to win another title. You want to go to college and win a national title and be an All-American.’

“I never want to be satisfied.”

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) Flushing’s Ben Cushman works against Grand Haven’s Drake Morley during last season’s Division 1 championship match at 215 pounds. (Middle) Cushman locks up with Detroit Catholic Central’s Jackson Ross during a quarterfinal. (Click for more from

After All-American Career, Rockford's Bennett Making Impact as Mat Mentor

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

July 25, 2023

ROCKFORD – Ben Bennett knew from an early age what he wanted his career path to be.

Made in Michigan is powered by Michigan Army National Guard.“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.

Bennett wrestles Clarkston’s Adam Lauzun for the Division 1 title at 171 pounds that season.“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.)