Tim Roberts had an awakening.
After winning the Division 3 championship in 2007, his Dundee Vikings lost in three consecutive Finals matches. Each were excruciating losses – 30-27, 33-25 and 24-23.
“We had a good program,” Roberts said. “We were doing well. But there was a period there where we were in the running but not winning. In 2011, I think it was the pinnacle. I realized we had to be different.
“We’d get close every year and lose at the state tournament. Too many times we were close. I knew we had to do something different.”
Not many coaches would have had the guts to change a program that had the success of Dundee, but Roberts wanted something more. The results speak for themselves.
The Vikings recently captured their fifth consecutive Division 3 title and ninth since 2011. The latest championship gave Roberts 10 total. He is the first wrestling coach in state history to win 10 Finals titles.
“We’ve been really fortunate,” said Roberts, who announced at last weekend’s Individual Wrestling Finals that he was retiring after 23 seasons and more than 500 career wins at Dundee. “It’s pretty cool to be the first to 10. There’s a lot of great coaches on that list with a lot of championships. It represents a lot of hard work by a lot of people.”
Roberts went into this Finals weekend tied with another coach from Monroe County, Bill Regnier, with nine championships. Roberts was an assistant at Dundee when Regnier coached his final match for Bedford. He’s a coach that Roberts still holds in high regard.
“He’s the legend,” Roberts said. “In every conversation, every poll, every time you talk about, Bill Regnier is considered the best wrestling coach ever in the state. To be mentioned in the same sentence as him is something special. He really is the legend.”
Hudson’s Scott Marry tied Regnier for second place on the list with his ninth Finals title last weekend. Lowell’s R.J. Boudro won his eighth title. Mike Rodriguez won seven at Detroit Catholic Central and one at River Rouge, and Mitch Hancock has won eight at Detroit Catholic Central.
“I might have been the first to 10, but I won’t be the last,” Roberts said. “There are a lot of great coaches still coaching with a lot of championships. Scott Marry is not done winning state titles. He’ll be at 10 real quick. R.J. has won eight in eight tries.
“I don’t think 10 will stand long.”
Roberts’ run is remarkable, nonetheless. His Vikings won a District title all 23 years he was head coach and have won 30 straight overall. Dundee won its Regional in 22 of his 23 years.
Roberts doesn’t beat around the bush about Dundee’s goals every year. League championships are nice, District and Regional championships help fill up the trophy case. But, for the Vikings, winning the Finals championship is always the goal.
“That sounds arrogant, I know,” Roberts said, “but that’s the way it is. That is the goal every year. In all 23 years I coached, that was the goal.”
Roberts said his changes to the program around 2011 included adding strength training to the Dundee repertoire, and that was when Vikings coaches also started focusing more on the mental approach to the sport.
“After 2011, we hit our stride,” he said.
Roberts gives a lot of credit for the “Viking Way” to others in the program.
“Doing it this way starts long before the varsity level,” he said. “The kids club has to be strong. The middle school program has to be strong. You have to have a coaching staff on the same page and dedicated to all aspects of the team. It’s not one person, not even close.”
Roberts learned under Jim Wittibslager, who led Dundee to four straight Finals championships from 1995-98.
“That put me on a really good path,” Roberts said. “I learned how all of this works. Over time, you keep learning. You figure things out as you go. You have to build relationships with a lot of people because you can’t do this alone, not if you want to sustain success.”
Roberts has won numerous coaching honors, local and state, and was named the National Wrestling Coaches Association Boys Coach of the Year in 2020. The honors are likely to continue after this season. Dundee defeated Alma 55-12 in the Division 3 Final to conclude another dominating season.
Roberts said he had an idea this would be his last coaching the Vikings.
“Coming into this season, I was pretty sure I was going to be done,” he said. “As the season went on, I realized that it would be. This isn’t a decision I took lightly. I’ve pretty much been doing this my whole adult life.”
Roberts said no one should expect Dundee to fall off the mountain. Six Individual Finals placers were underclassmen, and kids from the middle school team to the youth programs won multiple championships.
“There are a lot of good people in place and some good wrestlers coming up,” he said. “The youth club is doing really well. It’s just time. It’s time to let someone else who has the passion and drive to do this take over.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Dundee coach Tim Roberts shows his characteristic celebratory enthusiasm during last weekend’s Individual Wrestling Finals. (Middle) Bill Regnier, here in 2009, built a legendary career at Temperance Bedford. (Below) Roberts holds up his team’s 2020 Division 3 team championship trophy. (Roberts photos by Tom Hawley; Regnier photo courtesy of the Monroe News.)
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.)