Performance: Dundee's Brandon Whitman

January 26, 2018

Brandon Whitman
Dundee senior – Wrestling

Whitman is fast approaching an opportunity to join one of the elite groups of achievers in any sport in MHSAA history. With a chance at becoming the 23rd four-time individual wrestling champion a little more than a month away, Whitman continued his undefeated run of this season by winning the Most Valuable Performer at the upper weights at last weekend’s Hudson Super 16 – earning this week’s Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.”

Whitman, wrestling last weekend and mostly this season at 215 pounds, and occasionally as a heavyweight, is 27-0 this season and 180-3 over his high school career. He is ranked No. 3 nationally at 220 pounds by InterMat, with MHSAA Division 3 championships the last two seasons at 189 pounds and a win at 171 as a freshman. His most impressive victories this winter arguably are against Cody Howard of Lakewood St. Edward (Ohio), a nationally-ranked 195-pounder headed for Virginia Tech, and twice over Temperance Bedford heavyweight Austin Emerson, another nationally-ranked foe who will continue next season at Eastern Michigan University. Whitman also earned the 100th pin of his high school career in Wednesday’s dual meet win over Hudson.

Dundee as a team is ranked No. 1 in Division 3 this season and competing for its fourth MHSAA title in six seasons after finishing runner-up at last year’s Final on a tie-breaker in the championship match. Whitman will continue his academic and wrestling careers at the University of North Carolina. He carries a 3.9 grade-point average and intends to study physical therapy.

Coach Tim Roberts said: “It isn't about him. It's about all of us. He's doing his best to get better, and his ego has never gotten in the way of his success. He’s endlessly getting better, (asking) ‘how can I learn more about this sport and get better?’ I feel lucky; I’ve been able to coach a lot of great people, and he ranks as one of best people inside and outside of it. … Watching him come out of his shell more, how he treats other people, it’s great. As a freshman he was really good, obviously; he’s even better now. Even yesterday, he was asking questions trying to get better. It’s very impressive, how he handles himself. I’m just really happy I’ve had the opportunity to have this four years with him.”

Performance Point: “It’s been fun. I’ve been trying to get the best matches I could get so I can see what areas I need to improve on. … One of the big things with Emerson is I learned that I need to relax a little bit more. In some of those bigger matches, I tend to go out and try to sprint pretty much the whole match – and I get tired towards the end because the body’s not really meant to sprint for that long. The first time I wrestled him, I went out there and I got a takedown right away, took out a lot of energy. The second time I was a lot more relaxed. I picked and chose where I went and made my attacks, and it worked out a lot better. I ended up beating him 8-1 instead of 3-2, and I felt like I competed and I was able to go a lot longer than I usually am.”

On the verge of history: “It’s nice. It’s cool. But the ultimate goal is to just to keep getting better and better, and improving where you need to improve. Being the best that you can be. It will set goals for other kids coming up to try to work towards that and try to beat my records. That’s kinda cool.”

Humility counts: “(It’s) just the way I’d say my parents raised me. Nobody really likes when kids are cocky. They like a humble person who can compete at high levels but they are nice to people and can carry themselves well, and that’s how I’ve been raised.”

In this together: “This year I feel we’re having a lot more fun. We’re going out there and scoring points, and competing a lot harder than I think previous years too. Doing it for a cause greater than yourself, I think that’s helped a lot too. Because if you’re doing it for yourself, you can get nervous. But if you’re doing it for your team and for your friends, that can help take some of the pressure off.”

Ready to help: “I want to go into physical therapy. My brother’s been in physical therapy quite a few times. I’ve been in it quite a few times now. It’s interesting, and I want to being able to help other sports people, or anyone be able to recover as fast as they can to get them back doing what they do.”

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2017-18 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard will recognize a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.

The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster. 

Previous 2017-18 honorees:
January 18: Derek Maas, Holland West Ottawa swimming - Read
January 11: Lexi Niepoth, Bellaire basketball - Read
November 30: La'Darius Jefferson, Muskegon football - Read
November 23: Ashley Turak, Farmington Hills Harrison swimming - Read
November 16: Bryce Veasley, West Bloomfield football - Read 
November 9: Jose Penaloza, Holland soccer - Read
November 2: Karenna Duffey, Macomb L'Anse Creuse North cross country - Read
October 26: Anika Dy, Traverse City Central golf - Read
October 19: Andrew Zhang, Bloomfield Hills tennis - Read
October 12: Nolan Fugate, Grand Rapids Catholic Central football - Read
October 5: Marissa Ackerman, Munising tennis - Read
September 28: Minh Le, Portage Central soccer - Read
September 21: Olivia Theis, Lansing Catholic cross country - Read
September 14: Maddy Chinn, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep volleyball - Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Dundee's Brandon Whitman scores a takedown during the Temperance Bedford Tournament this season. (Middle) Whitman pins Lakewood St. Edward's Cody Howard during the Detroit Catholic Central Super Duals. (Photos courtesy of Dundee wrestling.)

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.)