Performance: Carson City-Crystal's Jamison Ward

February 14, 2020

Jamison Ward
Carson City-Crystal senior - Wrestling

The reigning Division 4 champion at 130 pounds is closing in on the Carson City-Crystal all-time wins record while closing out his high school career. Over the last two weeks, Ward has eclipsed 200 career victories and this past Saturday won his fourth conference title, this one at 135 pounds, to earn the MHSAA “Performance of the Week.”

Ward is bringing a 40-0 record this winter and 208-9 career mark into Saturday’s Individual District at Bloomingdale. He finished Division 4 runner-up at 103 pounds as a freshman and placed fourth at 119 as a sophomore before climbing to the top of the podium a year ago. He’s only two wins off the school career record set by two-time Division 4 Finals champion Dallas O’Green, who serves currently as Carson City-Crystal's co-head coach. So too does Jamison’s father Trent, who formerly led the Eagles program and won a Class C Finals championship at 119 pounds in 1994. 

Jamison Ward also helped Carson City-Crystal to the Division 4 Team Quarterfinals his first two seasons and the Semifinals a year ago. He had two pins Thursday as the Eagles won their Team District in pursuit of another trip to Wings Stadium. Ward ran cross country his first three years of high school, making the MHSAA Finals his first two seasons, before switching to football this past fall and earning all-league while leading the Eagles in rushing. He is still finalizing his college plans but would like to study criminal justice and earth science in preparation for becoming a Department of Natural Resources officer.

Co-head coach Kacy Datema said: “Jamison has been a huge point scorer for our team for all four years of his career, and we have come to heavily depend on him in team competition. He has grown into a great leader for our team. He leads by example and works with every kid in the room to get the most out of them. He is approaching our school’s career wins record and may have it by the end of this weekend. His father is our assistant coach, CCC alumni and a former state champion as well. It is awesome to be able to watch them share these special moments together. Our program is blessed to have had such a quality kid come through.” 

Performance Point: “I'm just trying to soak it in more,” Ward said of his final weeks of high school wrestling. “It's my last year wrestling here at Carson, and high school total. (I'm trying to) take it slow. Take it as it comes. (Thursday) night, the District, winning it for the eighth time, going into Regionals and I think we have a good shot of winning in Regionals. (The 200 wins) was definitely something I was looking for my whole high school career. Something I was gunning for is the school record, and that's just part of getting there. ... I wanted to go down as one of the best in Michigan. Four-time (champion) was on my mind coming into high school, but that was big-headed. I didn't quite get there, but I think I'm now becoming one of the greats in Michigan. 

Full circle: “Growing up, with my dad being the coach, I would always be wrestling with everybody, and he would always teach me things. And there were things I'd pick up here and there from the good wrestlers. It was nice growing up and actually becoming one of those people that maybe someone looks up to.”

Thanks Dad: “I think it's really helped me throughout my years, having him as coach telling me what to do, and a dad. Watching my weight is what he's doing now, but back then he would help me and critique me at home. We've recorded every wrestling match that I've had, and we look back on it and try to improve. ... He always rode legs (when he wrestled), and I ride legs too. But definitely skill-wise, I'm a lot more skilled than my dad is. He (knows). He calls himself the farm boy, and I'm the wrestler.”

Gridiron great: “My freshman year I really wanted to (play football). I broke my ankle eighth grade year. My dad, he was like, ‘I would stick with cross country and get in shape for wrestling.’ I really wanted to do football, but listened to dad: If I wanted be a state champion, I had to do cross country. And then my senior year, I won it my junior year wrestling, and my dad said, ‘You know what, you can play football if you want to this year. You’ve already got a state championship. If you get hurt, you’ll still have time to recover and still be good.’ … I thought it was awesome. I always wanted to play under the lights.”

Destination Kalamazoo: “I was born into the sport, but I started when I was 4. … I understood where we were going (as a program). I knew once I got into high school we were going to make it far – I was hoping (Finals) four years in a row. We'll see this year if we make it there.”

– Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Past honorees

Feb. 6: Elena Vargo, Farmington United gymnastics - Report
Jan. 31:
Michael Wolsek, Trenton swimming - Report
Jan. 24:
Kensington Holland, Utica Ford bowling - Report
Jan. 17:
Claycee West, White Pigeon basketball - Report
Jan. 10: 
Seth Lause, Livonia Stevenson hockey - Report
Dec. 5: Mareyohn Hrabowski, River Rouge football - Report
Nov. 28:
Kathryn Ackerman, Grand Haven swimming - Report
Nov. 21:
Emily Van Dyke, Southfield Christian volleyball - Report
Nov. 14:
Taylor Wegener, Ida volleyball - Report
Nov. 7:
Carter Solomon, Plymouth cross country - Report
Oct. 31: 
Jameson Goorman, Muskegon Western Michigan Christian soccer - Report
Oct. 24:
Austin Plotkin, Brimley cross country
- Report
Oct. 17:
Jack Spamer, Brighton cross country - Report
Oct. 10:
Kaylee Maat, Hudsonville volleyball - Report
Oct. 3:
Emily Paupore, Negaunee cross country - Report
Sept. 26: 
Josh Mason, South Lyon soccer - Report
Sept. 19: Ariel Chang, Utica Eisenhower golf - Report
Sept. 12: Jordyn Shipps, DeWitt swimming - Report

PHOTOS: (Top) Carson City-Crystal's Jamison Ward wrestles at Olivet earlier this season. (Middle) Ward celebrates his 200th win with, from left, Eagles assistant coach Jake Patterson, assistant and dad Trent Ward, co-head coach Dallas O'Green and co-head coach Kacy Datema. (Top photo by Alex Freeman/Greenville Daily News; middle courtesy of the Carson City-Crystal 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.)