Roberts Drives Dundee to Chase Dream

January 8, 2019

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

DUNDEE – The thing that keeps Dundee wrestling coach Tim Roberts motivated isn’t another dual meet victory, matching up with state powerhouse Hudson in a conference meet or hanging another banner inside the Vikings’ gymnasium.

Those things are nice, but what keeps Roberts going in his 20th season as the Dundee head coach is a certain two-time MHSAA Finals-qualifying wrestler from the mid-1980s who won 120 matches for Dundee but ultimately fell short of his goals.

That wrestler was Roberts.

“I’m always trying to prove myself, and I’m always trying to get better,” Roberts said. “When I think of myself as that kid who didn’t place at state, I do much better because I keep that hunger and desire. I need to learn more. I’ve got to get better at this.”

Roberts is already pretty good at what he does – a hall of famer, says Hudson coach Scott Marry, a seven-time MHSAA championship-winning coach himself.

“Coach Roberts is one of the best coaches I’ve ever coached against,” Marry said. “He gets his kids ready mentally and physically. You better have your team ready if you’re going to wrestle Dundee.”

Earlier this season, Roberts reached a career milestone – 500 career wins. He’s led Dundee to six Finals titles and six runner-up finishes, 19 District and 18 Regional titles. He’s coached 32 Individual Finals championship wrestlers and more than 140 all-staters. Under his leadership, Dundee also is approaching 20 Lenawee County Athletic Association titles.

The numbers don’t tell the full story about Roberts, however.

“I could write a book about Tim and how great a coach he is,” said Dundee athletic director Tom Oestrike. “His coaching profile speaks for itself, but what is even more impressive are the type of young men he has helped build in his career – men of selflessness, character and discipline.”

When Roberts wrestled at Dundee, he was a 98-pound freshman who grew to compete in the 126-pound weight class as a senior.

“We were a solid program at the time, (but) winning state was an impossible dream back then for sure,” Roberts said.

“I wasn’t bad at wrestling. I was pretty good. Compared to the guys we have now – I wasn’t as good as them. I thought I was pretty good, but I didn’t accomplish the goals that I wanted to.”

After high school, he enlisted in the Army. It was during that time that he got the coaching bug. He realized he wanted to help young student athletes learn how to get the most out of their careers.

“When I was in the military, I learned a lot about building myself into something and I wanted to share that information,” he said. “I thought about wrestling a lot and how I really didn’t accomplish the goals that I would have liked to, and I wanted to help other people. I had this desire to try to help. I felt like I had a knack for it.”

After his first year as an assistant coach, Dundee changed wrestling head coaches and Jim Wittibslager got the job. Roberts asked him if he could stay on as an assistant.

Wittibslager is a hall of fame coach in his own right. He compiled a record of 333-36-3 in two stints as the Dundee head coach. The Vikings won four straight MHSAA Finals titles during his tenure, from 1995-98.

“We went from a team 4-21 with zero state qualifiers, and by the fifth year we were state champs with 14 state qualifiers,” Roberts said. “It was quite a building process. It was lot of fun to go through and learn. Winning state went from an impossible dream to something that ‘Oh yeah, we could do this.’ We built ourselves into that level.”

Coaching with Wittibslager was a career-changer for Roberts.

“That was crucial in my development in how to coach,” he said. “I thought I had a knack for helping people and I had a little talent in that area, but I learned so much about what it takes, the work ethic and how to win and how to think like a winner.”

Admittedly, Roberts isn’t the same coach he was two decades ago. The sport has evolved significantly.

“I don’t coach now like I did 20 years ago, I’ll say that,” he said. “You grow with the times or you get left behind.”

What hasn’t changed during that time is Roberts’ attention to detail, his passion for coaching the right technique and getting his team ready for meets. Practices now include time in the weight room, warming up with some gymnastics moves such as back handstands, leaps and cartwheels; and, of course, technique.

“We still do conditioning,” he said. “We do quite a bit of that.”

Roberts believes one thing that sets wrestlers apart from each other is how far they can push themselves on the mat – when they reach the point where they feel they don’t have any more strength or ability, they find it.

“The only way you know if you can (push yourself) is by getting (to that point). That, as much as anything, will win you matches,” he said.

Maintaining that success has never been easy. Dundee typically has about 20 wrestlers out each year, a comparably low number to some other high-level programs. But that is where Roberts does his best work. Coaching at the high school level, he said, isn’t about coaching extraordinary athletes – it’s about coaching the average ones.

“It’s been an endless process for 20 years to keep trying to get better at this,” he said. “Average people are who you are coaching. That’s what coaching high school is, I think, learning how to work with the average person. Then, once in a while, you get to work with the exceptional person and that’s fun.”

Despite the enormous success during his 20 seasons at Dundee, Roberts has experienced the same highs and lows as any other coach.

“Lots of highs and lows,” he said. “Lots of times of feeling great, then you get humbled. Then you start feeling great again and then humbled again.”

Roberts coached Dundee to a Division 4 championship in 2001 and Division 3 titles in 2007, 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2018. Last year’s team was ranked nationally and had 14 Individual Finals qualifiers.

“Every one of those (championships) is like the best day of my life,” Roberts said. “Every time. It’s such a great feeling in the end that it all came together, and everything did work, and you did get it all done. A lot of things have to go right. It’s not easy.”

Roberts, 50, isn’t planning on stepping away from coaching any time soon. He’s also not stopping to think about reaching 500 career wins any time soon. He’d rather think about that high school wrestler who missed out on winning a state championship – but has had a remarkable impact on so many others.

“That’s for when you are done (coaching),” he said. “Right now, I’m still trying to get better and trying to work on my weaknesses as a coach and always seeking out how I can be better at this. When you’re done is when you get to reflect.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTO: Dundee wrestling coach Tim Roberts and his team celebrate one of the many successful moments during his two decades leading the program. (Photo by David Schankin.)

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.)