Modert Driving Toward 3rd Title, Wins Record

By Wes Morgan
Special for

January 10, 2020

By Wes Morgan
Special for Second Half

Ben Modert’s road to three all-state wrestling seasons and two individual Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 4 Finals championships played out to a soundtrack of his own stomach rumblings and the clanging of silverware by those around him consuming everyday meals.

The Bronson standout blocked all that out to remain trim as a 103-pound freshman and sophomore, followed by a junior campaign at 112 pounds. It was just one of the many sacrifices Modert made to climb to the summit.

A sixth-place finish in the championships held at The Palace of Auburn Hills in 2017 propelled Modert into a sophomore season that netted 55 victories and a Finals crown at Ford Field. Last spring as a junior, he rattled off 52 victories en route to a championship at 112 pounds.

The hunger for a third title is certainly there, even though Modert made a decision to quell the physical cravings for more sustenance by bumping up to higher weight classes this year.

That’s not to say Modert believes the path will be any easier.

Wednesday’s Big 8 Conference dual match against Union City is a prime example. Though Bronson ended the night with a 36-30 victory, Modert experienced his first loss of the season. Fellow reigning Finals champion Brayton Mears, who won last year’s Division 4 title at 103 pounds as a freshman, edged Modert 2-1 in the 119-pound bout in one of the season’s early marquee matchups. Both grapplers entered the day undefeated.

“I decided since it’s my senior year to not cut much weight,” Modert, whose original plan for this season was to compete at 125 pounds, said before the year began and prior to settling on 119 pounds. “I just like to wrestle whoever and get the best competition. It’s more fun to me. I get more from losing than winning. It’s just better experience. It’s obviously upsetting to lose, but I’ll watch videos and want to see what I did wrong and still improve.

“I honestly like the target (on me) and people gunning for me. I like the competition like that. I know I have to keep my head in it still. Cutting weight makes it 10 times longer than what (the season) already is. Hopefully not cutting weight will help keep my motivation up.”

Bronson head coach Chad Butters has witnessed first-hand how Modert’s mindset has paid dividends.

“He has definitely matured on and off the mat,” Bronson head coach Chad Butters said of Modert. “One of the things I admire about Ben is he really does a good job of seeking out the best competition. There were times he could have ducked some competition.”

Based on the few losses he’s experienced over the past two seasons, Modert’s recent defeat might be the cool breeze across the embers that will ignite another historic run. A loss last season to Clinton’s A.J. Baxter, who Modert beat at the 2018 Finals, led to Modert finishing out the year undefeated.

“Ben approached me and said he wanted that match (against Baxter),” Butters said. “He’s driven, and he wants to challenge himself. He’s constantly pushing himself. That was a good thing for him. I think he learned just because he won a state championship in the past, nothing is guaranteed. You have to work for it, and it has to be earned.”

Modert is ahead of pace to break former Bronson great Hunter Machus’s career school wins record of 207 (2013). Entering the year with 160 victories and having accrued more than 20 so far this winter, that feat might be accomplished by February.

With no plans to compete in college, Modert’s soaking in all he can as his decorated career winds down.

“This will be my 12th year wrestling, and it can’t go on forever,” he said. “I think it’s a cool thing to be in the record books to begin with. We have banners up for state championships. I don’t like to be glorified, but I like the recognition.

“(Butters) is a great coach and Tony (Turner) is great, too. They’re working with you constantly and doing everything they can. They are very supportive. It’s a huge wrestling family we have behind us. It’s so supportive, and they’re awesome and always there. We always have a huge crowd there cheering, and that’s a big part of (our success).”

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) Bronson's Ben Modert locks up the Division 4 championship at 112 pounds at Ford Field last season. (Middle) Modert shows his chart after claiming the title. (Click for more from

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.)