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

Bragging Rights for Both as Multi-Sport Sage Twins Shine at Ford Field

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

March 10, 2023

SOUTHGATE – The question of “Which child is your favorite?” is impossible for any parent to answer, but Shawn Sage has an additional question that’s impossible to answer regarding his son Jackson and daughter Brooklyn.

Greater DetroitThat question is, “Who would win a wrestling match between the two?”

“They are both raising their hands right now smiling about it,” Shawn Sage said with a laugh during a phone conversation.

It’s a good-natured question anybody can pose to Shawn Sage, given his son and daughter are not only twins by birth, but in wrestling achievements as sophomores at Southgate Anderson.

Last weekend at Ford Field, Jackson Sage competed in his second Individual Finals, where he finished fourth in Division 2 in the 157-pound weight class.

It was an improvement from last year’s event, when he qualified as a freshman but didn’t place.

“I was more used to it,” Jackson Sage said. “Last year was a different experience being at Ford Field the first time.”

Brooklyn Sage qualified for the Individual Finals this season as well, where she finished sixth in the Girls Division 155-pound weight class.

The winter was busy for both, but especially for Brooklyn. In addition to competing in wrestling, she was also a member of the school’s competitive cheer team.

“I knew that it would be a commitment,” she said. “But I was up for it. I was at the school for about 14 hours a day, but it was worth it at the end.”

Jackson and Brooklyn are each three-sport athletes. Jackson is the quarterback on the football team in the fall and a member of the track team (he competes in 300 hurdles and two relays) in the spring, while Brooklyn plays softball.

But it’s wrestling where the two share their greatest bond athletically.

Jackson started getting involved in the sport when was around elementary school age, and Brooklyn would tag along to practices.

Along the way, she became intrigued enough to try wrestling herself.

“I liked being able to know that I could defend myself and take care of myself in different ways,” she said. “To be able to stand up for myself.”

Brooklyn said she stopped wrestling competitively around sixth grade because there weren’t opportunities for girls to compete only against each other, but that changed when a girls-only division was added to the MHSAA Tournament with the 2021-22 season.

With both able to compete in high school, at-home workouts intensified. The two regularly train against each other on a mat in their basement, where technique is honed and toughness is sharpened.

“She pushes me a lot,” Jackson said.

Both also learn from each other’s experiences.

“I feel like watching him made me more motivated to do it,” Brooklyn said. “He’s taught me a lot of technique that I wouldn’t have known from his past experiences and coach.”

Added Jackson: “I’ve learned from her matches.”

This week has actually presented a rarity for both in that they’ve had time off.

With wrestling ending and spring sports not officially opening practice until Monday, the two haven’t had practices and competitions.

That’ll change next week when they go their separate ways with Jackson to track practice and Brooklyn joining the softball squad, and they’ll focus on those sports for the rest of the school year.

But with two more years of eligibility left and all-state finishes in wrestling already, the sky is the limit for the next two years in that sport for both.

With that in mind, the questions to Dad about who would win a match are likely only getting started.

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties

PHOTO Southgate Anderson twins Brooklyn, left, and Jackson Sage both placed at this season’s Wrestling Individual Finals. (Photo courtesy of the Sage family.)