Niles' Season History in the Making

February 1, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Before every match this season, coach Todd Hesson has reminded his Niles wrestlers of the opportunities before them.

Calling every face-off a chance to make history has been more than just encouragement. This season is looking good to go down as the best in the Vikings’ long history.

Niles has won a school-record 29 matches, with just one loss. Last weekend, for the first time, the Vikings repeated as Berrien County Invitational champions. They wrestle in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference tournament Saturday, and next week will attempt to win their District for the second straight season – which also would be a first.

“All of these kids have stuck together,” said Hesson, who was promoted to varsity coach in 2007-08. “When these seniors started, they took a beating. But we haven’t changed the competition. They've just weathered the storm.”

“We had 20 (wins) exactly, 20-16 (when they were freshmen). It was not a pretty record. But we saw a big jump (from them) as sophomores.”

And the rest, literally, is history.

The list of teams Niles has beaten this winter compares well with the best slates in the state – Division 1 No. 10 Battle Creek Lakeview, Division 2 No. 2 Lowell, No. 4 Allegan and formerly-ranked Mason, and Division 3 No. 3 Whitehall and No. 9 Saginaw Swan Valley. The lone loss came to Shelby, the No. 5 team in Division 3, 31-29.

Four seniors anchor the Niles lineup, including three MHSAA Finals qualifiers from last season. Total, four Vikings made the individual Finals a year ago – seniors Ryan Casey, Fritzel Findeisen and Casey Burandt and sophomore Brendon Meek.

Casey is 39-0 this season at 189 pounds and has tied the school career record with 76 pins. He’s ranked fourth in Division 2 at his weight class, with Burandt fourth at 145 pounds despite missing significant time with a broken hand and Findeisen sixth at 152. Senior Derek Scott is ranked seventh at 285 pounds and senior Nick Zimmerman is sixth at 119.

“They’re a tough group of kids. They work hard,” Hesson said. “Quite honestly, and I say it all the time, but I’m blessed with a good group of kids. They do what you ask.”

All four classes contribute to the Vikings' line-up, and the team bond grew strong over the summer during a week-long camp hosted by former University of Wisconsin All-American Jeff Jordan. Niles wrestlers entered Jordan’s Ohio facility and left only for morning runs and meals, even sleeping on the mats at night – although Hesson “cheated” a few times by sleeping in the team van.

Some of his wrestlers may not have been too excited about the camp at the time, but understand its worth after what they've accomplished this season. Hesson said they’ll return this summer.

And by then, the Vikings could surely be able to boast that this was their best season ever.

Banners hang in Niles wrestling room highlighting the team’s District and Regional championships. The Regional banner lists only two seasons – 1935 and 1960. Niles has never advanced to MHSAA Team Finals weekend since the team championship format was added in 1988.

An obstacle often has been powerful Stevensville Lakeshore, a Division 2 Quarterfinalist the last five seasons. But Niles, after beating Lakeshore by 7.5 points to win the 2012 Berrien County Invitational, repeated last weekend by finishing 62 points ahead of the field.

Even as Hesson admits his program still has a ways to go to join Lakeshore as a regular southwestern Michigan power, he likes to think the Vikings are headed that way. The next month could tell more of how far they've come.

“ We've had some pretty good teams going all the way back to my first year. But Lakeshore had better teams; they were stacked,” Hesson said. “Not to take away anything from them, but they made us better … another notch or two or three.” 

PHOTO: Niles' Fritzel Findeisen (in white) wrestles during last season's MHSAA Division 2 Individual Finals at The Palace of Auburn Hills. (Click to see more at

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.)