EGR 2-Sport Star Chasing Final HS Goal

January 23, 2020

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

EAST GRAND RAPIDS – Over the past three weeks, John Shelton IV has established a new school record for wrestling wins while also reaching a rare milestone with his 150th career victory.

While most would be elated and content, the East Grand Rapids senior wants more and has his sights set on an even bigger goal.  

“To be honest, it was a stepping stone for me, and it wasn’t that big of a deal because I’m trying to win a state title,” Shelton IV said. “It’s a cool accomplishment in the sport, but I would rather have a state championship. That’s what I really want, and it is the biggest milestone I can get right now.”

Shelton IV, who wrestles at 189 and 215 pounds, is a three-time MHSAA Finals qualifier. However, an individual championship at that highest level has eluded him.

He came close last season, reaching the Division 2 championship match at 189 pounds before losing a tightly-contested bout against Cedar Springs’ Sage Serbenta.

“Last year I was pretty confident that no one could beat me, but there is always someone out there that can give you a good battle and he gave me a good battle,” Shelton IV said. “I guess I wasn’t really battle-tested and I wasn’t ready for the match. You can’t get complacent and I got complacent, I feel like, toward the end of the year.”

Shelton IV notched his 100th win early in his junior season and surpassed the previous school record of 147 wins, set by Doug Dozeman. 

“Obviously for a kid to hit 150 wins is unbelievable, and I grew up in Illinois where 150 wins is unheard of,” East Grand Rapids wrestling coach Eric Dietz said. “And just to do it at the weights he has done it at. Most kids get a lot of wins wrestling at the lighter weights as freshmen and sophomores, but he came in right away wrestling 18-year-olds as a 14-year-old.”  

The loss in last year’s Final didn’t sit well with Shelton IV, but it has fueled his motivation both physically and mentally.

“He took it hard, as it would anybody whose goal it is to win a state title,” Dietz said. “Getting there and losing by a takedown ate at him over the offseason more and more, and in the weight room he seemed more focused to go out and secure that goal. The 150 wins was just something on his way to achieving his goal.”

Shelton IV won tournaments at the state and national level while in middle school, but said the ultimate cap to his high school career would be an MHSAA Finals crown.

“It’s the most motivation I’ve had. And if I don’t win it, it wouldn’t necessarily be a failure, but I’ve dreamed about it since I started wrestling in high school and I really want to accomplish it,” he said. “My life has revolved around sports, and I think a state championship is the best thing you can do in high school – so that’s what I want to do.”

Shelton IV is 25-0 this season, with the first rounds of the MHSAA Tournament looming next month.

“I wish I would’ve wrestled more ranked guys and had more competition to get ready for the postseason, but I think I’ve wrestled pretty well,” Shelton IV said. “There’s always room for improvement, though.”

Shelton IV will take his talents to Central Michigan University, where he will wrestle and also play football.

He led the Pioneers to the Regional Finals in football and rushed for 1,661 yards while scoring a team-high 25 touchdowns.

Shelton IV wanted the opportunity to play two sports in college.

“I thought I was skilled enough to play both in college, but I didn’t know how I would balance it,” he said. “I know it’s going to be tough, and I thought it would be in football and baseball. I didn’t think it would be football and wrestling.”

Shelton IV suffered a knee injury during baseball season and didn’t continue. He’s looking forward to wrestling under the same coach as his dad did in high school.

John Shelton III wrestled for the Chippewas and longtime coach Tom Borrelli. Shelton III won a Mid-American Conference championship in 1995.

“I like the school a lot and my dad told me great things about Coach,” Shelton IV said. “I think he can really help me get to my full potential, and I have a lot of buddies there.

“I think I’ll be able to get comfortable there really quickly, and I’m really excited to compete against guys around the country and not just my state.”

Shelton committed for football during the early signing period, although he’d had his doubts after the Chippewas went 1-11 two years ago.

Central Michigan experienced a turnaround, however, this past fall under first-year coach Jim McElwain and finished 8-6 en route to a spot in the MAC championship game and a bowl berth.

“I’m really excited to go there now and play for McElwain,” Shelton IV said. “They had a good season, and who doesn’t like being around a winning team?”

Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at[email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) East Grand Rapids’ John Shelton IV shows his excitement after a semifinal win during last season’s MHSAA Individual Finals at Ford Field. (Middle) Shelton breaks away from the Forest Hills Northern defense during his junior season. (Top photo by; middle courtesy of the East Grand Rapids athletic department.)

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.)