Newberry Finalists Relish Title Opportunity

By John Vrancic
Special for

February 22, 2018

MUNISING — In 1988, the MHSAA Team Wrestling Finals were reunified with both peninsulas competing for the same championships. 

But before 2008, Upper and Lower Peninsula wrestlers still competed for separate individual titles – making for far less matchups between the U.P.’s best and their counterparts from downstate, unless a U.P. team made a championship run.

For the last decade, the Upper Peninsula’s best have embraced the opportunity to represent their schools and extend their seasons by taking part in the unified MHSAA Individual Finals tournament after their teams had been eliminated in earlier rounds. 

Four Newberry wrestlers were fortunate enough to advance to the Division 4 Individual Regional tournament at Charlevoix on Feb. 17 after the Indians were eliminated by St. Ignace 54-21 in the Team District on Feb. 7.

“It was hard, especially being a senior,” Newberry’s Alex Henry said after taking a 4-3 decision from Munising senior Christian Cole in the 160-pound Individual District Final on Feb. 10 at Munising. “It would have been nice to get through as a team, although I thought our team did pretty well this year.”

This was the first District title for Henry, who plans to wrestle at Alma College next season. 

“I will definitely look forward to that, but now I’ve got to focus on the next step,” he added.

He did just that, placing third in the Regional. He will now move on to the MHSAA Individual Finals, March 2-3 at Ford Field in Detroit.

Senior teammate Cameron Symonds also is heading to Detroit after placing second in the Regional. 

“There was a feeling of disappointment when our team got eliminated, but having a chance to wrestle in the individual tournament takes a little bit of the sting off it,” Symonds said after pinning Onaway junior Coty Inonetz with 1.1 seconds left in the 152-pound District Final for his third straight District title. “We just didn’t show up to wrestle that day.

“You’ve got to come prepared. Last year I went to the Regional (at Rogers City) as a top seed and didn’t make it to the state tournament. You have to take it one match at a time.”

Nathan Magnusson, the team’s third senior, reached the 135-pound final and earned a trip to Detroit despite dropping a 4-0 Regional championship decision to Onaway sophomore Matt Grant.

“Wrestling is bit of an individual sport, yet you’re also trying to help your team,” said Magnusson, who will enroll at Central Michigan University this fall. “It’s nice to have a second chance. Although, I wish we also could have gone to a Regional as a team.”

Junior Devin Racicot was among four Bark River-Harris grapplers to advance to the Individual Regional. None, however, qualified for next weekend’s Finals.
BR-H edged Munising 36-33 in its District opener Feb. 8 at Manistique. The Broncos were then eliminated on the 11th tie-breaker (43-42) by the host Emeralds. 

“It was depressing at first, coming so close and not be going on as a team,” said Racicot, who was pinned 3:39 into the 215-pound District Final by Charlevoix junior Maximus Hinkle. “There was about a 15 to 20-minute wait to find out if we were going. It would have been nice, but we’re proud we accomplished that much. (Manistique) basically had four kids at the beginning of the season, then their numbers moved up to about 10. They came a long way this year.”

With none of their wrestlers graduating this spring, it appears the Broncos have much to look forward to next season. 

“With this being my first year of high school wrestling, I was pleased to be moving on to the (individual) Regional,” said Racicot. “We just hope to come back with the same kids. If we do, I think we can do well next year.”

PHOTOS: Newberry's Cameron Symonds (left) wrestles under the spotlight at the Upper Peninsula championship tournament at Marquette High School. (Middle) Finals qualifier Alex Henry locks up an opponent during a home meet. (Below) Newberry's Nate Magnusson (top) works to keep position during a match earlier this season. (Photos by Tammy Henry.)

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.)