Performance: Lowell's Austin Boone

March 5, 2020

Austin Boone
Lowell senior – Wrestling

Together with his teammates, Boone continued to contribute to a historic streak Saturday by helping the Red Arrows to their record seventh-straight MHSAA Team Finals championship, posting a pin and two major decisions to earn the MHSAA “Performance of the Week.” He also put himself on the cusp of another legendary achievement – this weekend at Ford Field, Boone can become the 27th in Michigan high school history to win four Individual Finals championships, and join Davison great Brent Metcalf as the only wrestlers to win four individual titles and be part of four team titles as well.

Lowell defeated Croswell-Lexington in Friday’s Quarterfinal, 63-10, then Muskegon Reeths-Puffer 58-9 in the Saturday morning Semifinal and Gaylord 53-4 in the afternoon championship match – another dominant run, especially impressive considering the Red Arrows lost a ranked wrestler to a knee injury and saw another wrestle through a slightly lesser one. In the finale, Boone scored an 11-3 decision at 145 pounds over two-time individual champion Chayse LaJoie, who entered the match unbeaten. Boone will bring a 37-0 record into Friday’s first round, and he’s 152-8 over his career with his previous championships coming at 135, 145 and 152 pounds.

Boone – who also played football his first three years of high school – has signed to continue his academic and wrestling careers at national powerhouse Penn State, which has won eight of the last nine NCAA Division I championships. Boone’s father is a dentist, and Austin intends to eventually study dentistry as well and follow his dad into the family practices.    

Coach R.J. Boudro said: “First of all, it’s always nice when you send somebody out and you’re pretty sure they’re going win, every time, and probably get you bonus points. So within wrestling, that’s a luxury that we’re sure going to miss. And as far as him in the practice room … I don’t know that Austin’s ever missed a wrestling practice. (Boone confirmed he missed one this season for a college visit.) And within that wrestling practice, there’s guys that you’re in practice and you have to go sit out or whatever because you’re hurt. I don’t know that Austin’s ever taken a second off of a practice. So his toughness, I think this year, has been really contagious. I think we’ve been able to use that as an example and kinda show kids what toughness is. Because it’s hard to do that when you don’t have it; when you have it, you’ve got to make an example of it, and Austin definitely has that. I don’t think he’s every come close to missing weight. I don’t think he’s ever just missed a match. He’s just the most dependable kid I think I’ve ever had, and dependable for a lot of reasons. Over the course of four years he’s grown up a lot, and I think this year has been easily his best year – not just performance-wise, but just helping our team, being another coach in our room.”

Performance Point: “I just think that the team performed really well. We went into that kinda motivating guys to put up as many team points as you could, especially if the person knew they were supposed to win,” Boone said of Saturday’s victory over Gaylord. “We started out with Nick Korhorn; he was kinda on edge a little bit, and we told him to just go and get as many bonus points as he could and he started off good, he put up five team points and we just fed off that. Will Link had a big win; we felt like that was another turning point. We (took) it up another gear. I feel like everyone wrestled better after we got to see those guys win some big matches. … I really didn’t think about (the magnitude of my match) all that much. I try not to think about it at all. The more you think about your opponent, the less you focus on yourself.”

Four for four, and seven in a row: “It’s been fantastic. Honestly, it’s weird to think about. You almost want to say that you think it’s going to happen, but there’s so much work that goes into each title. You almost forget about it. Every year you come back and you think it’s going to happen again, and you put in so much work over and over and over again, and then it’s over and you have to start again.”

Tournament tested: “(This weekend is) just another match. Honestly, I’m more worried about what I’m eating for dinner tonight than I am for this weekend. … (I’ve) just wrestled in so many big matches over the years, it’s all the same.”

Memories made: “It’s just the experience of high school. You get to know what it’s like to be part of a team. Fortunately for me, I got to be part of a really good team. I got to wrestle some really good matches against other really good teams. It was just a good experience to have before I head off to college. It’s different than wrestling with either yourself, or I’ve wrestled with my brothers over the summer – it’s not really a team. So I like (high school).”

Full house: “I have five siblings – four younger brothers and a younger sister. The household’s fairly loud. We’ve learned to live with each other. It’s not as hectic as it used to be. And then weekends, we just spend at wrestling tournaments. … They’re all wrestlers. I’ve tried to show them just the occasional goofy move. But they’ve got to figure it out for themselves, and I think that’s better for them. One of my younger brothers actually just showed me a new move last week, and then he showed it to the team because it was just goofy – it was fun.”

– Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Past honorees

Feb. 27: Aaron Grzelak, Marquette skiing - Report
Feb. 20:
Kailee Davis, Detroit Renaissance basketball - Report
Feb. 13:
Jamison Ward, Carson City-Crystal wrestling - Report
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) Lowell's Austin Boone works toward a win over Gaylord's Chayse LaJoie during Saturday's Division 2 Team Final at Wings Event Center. (Middle) Boone's arm is raised in victory during Friday's Quarterfinal against Croswell-Lexington. (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.)