Richmond: 'Nothing Compares to This'

February 28, 2015

By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half 

BATTLE CREEK – With the MHSAA Division 3 wrestling championship at stake, Richmond senior Connor Behem had his Dundee opponent on his back Saturday afternoon at Kellogg Arena.

It was the first minute of their match, and the Dundee wrestler frantically was trying to raise his hand, as if he were reaching for a championship but in reality simply trying to avoid a pin. Behem, meanwhile, was using his wrestling repertoire as he tried to pin his opponent’s shoulders to the mat.

“Time was going by really slowly,” Behem said. “It felt like an hour when he was on his back, but I knew it was only a few seconds.” 

Finally, 67 seconds into the match, Behem got the pin, not only ending an incredible comeback that netted Richmond the MHSAA championship but writing a script that Hollywood would have a tough time turning down.

Richmond edged Dundee 27-25 for its seventh Finals championship and fourth in the past six years.

Richmond faced Dundee in the Final for the third year in a row, and Dundee, the two-time defending champion, had a comfortable 25-12 lead with three matches left. 

“I thought it was slipping away,” Richmond coach Brandon Day said. “For them to come out and do what they did, I’m so proud of them.”

After a decision by Adam Boyd and a pin by Roy Costello, Richmond pulled within 25-21 going into the final match at 112 pounds. Richmond needed a pin by Behem to win the championship, and when he pinned Wallace, the Richmond bench and crowd erupted with joy. 

“I kind of broke down emotionally,” Behem said. “It felt so good, words can’t even describe it.”

Behem’s knee locked up in the morning practice, and Roberts did not use him in the 32-19 victory over Remus Chippewa Hills in the Semifinal match.

“His ACL and meniscus are completely torn,” Day said. “He has practiced one day in the last three weeks. We were lucky enough to be able to sit him in the semis. ... Sacrifice won this for us, no doubt.” 

Behem played off the injury, as his euphoria likely dampened any pain he might have been feeling.

“My knee is a little bummed, but it’s all right,” he said. 

Boyd began the big comeback with a 3-0 victory over Gabe Heiserman at 285. Although a pin would have been huge, Richmond needed at least a decision to stay alive in the match.

“Everyone was telling me I had to get six, and it kind of got in my head a little bit,” Boyd said. “I kind of got away and started talking to our coach and Devin Skatzka, and they calmed me back down and said just get the win, and I got the win.” 

Next up was Costello at 103, and he wasted little time in deciding his match with a pin in 31 seconds.

“It was like do or die. I knew I had to do it,” Costello said. “I was so happy as soon as I locked that up. Then I just told Connor good luck. 

“I knew Connor was going to get that pin, but once the referee hit that mat, I was up. I was so happy I cried for joy.”

Behem took the mat with the weight of the entire wrestling program on his back and his weakened right knee. He felt it. 

“I was nervous, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “I saw my teammates get it done before me, so that helped me. I saw Roy pick up the pin and Adam pick up a big win, so once I got on the mat, all my nerves went away. It felt good.

“I could not have went out my senior year any better than this. Individuals (Finals) are pretty crazy, but nothing compares to team state finals. Nothing.” 

Richmond, which finished 32-5, won just six of the 14 matches in the Final but picked up nine bonus points with three pins. Skatzka, a three-time individual MHSAA champion, had the other pin in 56 seconds over Kyle Reinhart at 160 pounds.

Skatzka said the entire team was computing what it would take for the Blue Devils to erase the late 13-point deficit. 

“We all were counting it up in our head,” Skatzka said. “We knew we had our matches at 103 and 112, and we were kind of counting on pins from them, and it happened just how we counted on them.

“I can’t even describe what it felt like. It was the most exciting thing I’ve ever been through. I’ve won three state titles in my life and the team state title my freshman year. Nothing has been more exciting than this. Nothing compares to this.” 

Richmond’s other victories came on decisions by Aaron Kilburn at 125 and Austin Pawlak at 152.

Dundee, which has been in the MHSAA Finals in eight of the past nine years, ended its season at 25-6. Of their eight wins in the Final, only one registered more than the three points. Sophomore Sean Sterling scored a 22-9 major decision at 145 pounds. 

The seven other victories picked up by Dundee were by Drew Scholl (119), Drew Mandell (130), Kenny Reinhart (135), Zach Blevins (140), Donny Mandell (171), Brandon Whitman (189) and Tye Thompson (215).

“It was a good dual,” Dundee coach Tim Roberts said. “We end up having great duals every year. They have a great team and do a great job over there, and they have a great coach, obviously. 

“They did a super job, I have to give them credit.”

Six Dundee wrestlers finished 3-0 over the weekend: Donny Mandell, Reinhart, Blevins, Sterling, Whitman and Thompson. Skatzka and Costello were the only Richmond wrestlers to go 3-0 for the weekend. 

“I am so proud of the effort from everybody from top to bottom,” Day said. “We gave up bonus points one match, and we had three falls.

“That’s how you win state titles.”

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PHOTO: Richmond poses with its MHSAA Division 3 championship trophy Saturday at Kellogg Arena. (Click to see more at

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.)