Seniors Shoulder Decatur Title Hopes

By Pam Shebest
Special for

December 20, 2016

DECATUR — When he was young, Coy Helmuth broke both sides of his collarbone and almost gave up wrestling.

Logan Kennedy is looking to add more MHSAA Finals honors to the family tree.

Fritz Williamson’s brothers told him he’d never make it as a wrestler.

That trio provides three key ingredients to Decatur’s hopes for securing an elusive MHSAA Division 4 team title.

Helmuth and Kennedy were Division 4 Individual Finals runners-up last year and hope to build on their successes this year as seniors.

In fact, Jack Richardson, who has coached the Raiders the last four years, has seniors slated for 10 of the 14 weight classes.

Decatur’s team was seeded second last year but lost to Leroy Pine River in the Quarterfinals in a 35-34 nail-biter.

“That’s still fresh in my mind, and I think it’s fresh in the kids’ minds, especially the seniors,” Richardson said. “They were all extremely disappointed, but Pine River wrestled extremely well. They came out and they wrestled to beat us.

“We will use that as a teaching tool. Yes, we were sour about it. We wanted to win. We had high aspirations. Now we have to use it not as something that will hold us back but something that will push us forward. OK, this happened and what can we do to fix it.”

Richardson has a bit more breathing room this year, choosing from among 21 wrestlers to compete.

Last year, he had just 15 on the team.

“We were relying on everybody,” he said.

One of those was Williamson, a senior this year, who surprised his coach with his versatility.

“He’d been a JV wrestler for two years, and I had him at 189,” Richardson said.

Although Williamson posted a 22-34 record, “He came within a match of being a state qualifier, and he hadn’t seen a varsity match in two years,” the coach said. 

“He really, really came on at the end of the year and wrestled very well.”

Williamson said the fact his older brothers told him he’d never make it was the best motivation of all.

“I practiced really hard and worked really hard to get better,” he said. “Now I’m a pretty decent wrestler. People say I’m pretty good and they like to watch me wrestle.”

The senior, who was adopted from Haiti when he was 5 years old, has 10 brothers and sisters, all adopted, he said.

“I like the fact that I feel like I can accomplish things myself,” he said. “No one is really yelling much at you, telling you what to do. It’s a team sport, but it’s basically you. I like the fact that I can wrestle people and win. I like to win.”

Helmuth, who had a 50-7 record at 119 last year, followed his dad, David, who wrestled for Dowagiac, then helped coach the team for a few years. David started his son out wrestling at a young age.

After finishing runner-up to Erie-Mason’s Robert LeFevre last year, Helmuth said he knows better what to expect this year.

The MHSAA tournament “is a different environment,” Helmuth said. “You’ve got thousands of people looking down at you, watching your match, other than the 16 who are usually involved.

“You walk out and see the one person you’re wrestling. You guys came out of the same region, and it’s just a completely different environment (than the regular season).

“This year, I feel like I could get myself ready for that Finals match better. I’m not expecting anything less. That’s one of my goals. Second isn’t good enough this year.”

A four-year varsity wrestler, Helmuth “lost in the blood rounds freshman and sophomore years,” Richardson said. “He made a big jump going into his junior year, more mentally than anything.

“He’s very analytical. Ninety-five percent of the people I’ve seen him wrestle that he’s gotten beat by, he has the ability to come back and adjust how he wrestles to have success.”

Kennedy said he is inspired by father, Jim, who was an MHSAA champ at Decatur in 1986 and started his son in the sport when Logan was 5 years old.

Logan’s three older brothers, Mitch, Zach and Austin, all placed at the Individual Finals. That’s an even bigger motivator for the senior, who posted a 51-6 record at 285 last year, losing to Laingsburg’s Kory Koenig in the Final.

“After (my brothers) graduated, they all focused on building me up,” Kennedy said. “Mitch wrestled at 125, Zach and Austin were heavyweights.

“Every time I step on the mat, it’s like a natural high to me. I feel like I’m floating on air when I wrestle.”

Durability is one of Kennedy’s key assets.

“Most of my matches I end up winning in the third period,” he said. “This year I am working harder than anybody else is working. 

“My biggest fear is that someone else is out there working harder than me. My goal is every day to work the hardest I can work, to push my body to the limit.”

Richardson said Kennedy, who wrestled varsity all four years, “is extremely athletic for a guy his size. For a guy his size, he’s got good feet.

“He actually tore his ACL the summer before his sophomore year, and we didn’t know if we were going to get him back. He came back and helped our team get to the Semifinals that year.”

Richardson said there are reasons Decatur has had strong wrestling programs through the years.

One is that younger wrestlers learn from accomplished older ones.

Most recently, Luke Bell was an MHSAA champ in 2010, 2011 and 1012.

His brother, Hunter won a Division 4 crown at 152 pounds in 2015.

“Hunter was a junior and senior when these seniors were freshmen, sophomores,” Richardson said. “You see the way he worked, which goes back to his brother Luke.

“I think with any successful program, those are the kinds of threads that bind. People who have success inspire the next generation through.”

Another reason is the makeup of the community.

“You have blue collar, hard-working people,” he said. “I think that’s what the sport’s built on.

“In a sense, when you have high expectations and that kind of background with kids, they’re not afraid to come in and work hard. If anything, with our sport, regardless of talent, regardless of ability, hard work is the foundation for success.”

Others on the team are Dylan Elmore (103), Ronnie Bell (103), Sterling Smith (112), Romeo Lopez (112/119), Emile Laporte (125), Owen Flowers (119), Kohl Matlock (135), Sebastion Rached (140), Alex Mendoza (140), Ethan May (145), AJ Gerhold (152), Everett Blonde (152), Jared Checkley (160), Michael Nuyen (160), Zack Checkley (171), Jack O’Brian (171), TJ Conklin (215) and Colby Olgrin (215).

Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Logan Kennedy lines up against Leroy Pine River's Andrew Frisbie during last season's Division 4 Quarterfinals. (Middle) Clockwise, from top left: Decatur coach Jack Richardson, Coy Helmuth, Fritz Williamson, Kennedy. (Below) The Decatur bench cheers on a teammate while Richardson offers support. (Click to see more action photos from; head shots by Pam Shebest.)

After All-American Career, Rockford's Bennett Making Impact as Mat Mentor

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

July 25, 2023

ROCKFORD – Ben Bennett knew from an early age what he wanted his career path to be.

Made in Michigan is powered by Michigan Army National Guard.“I always wanted to coach,” the former Rockford High School wrestling standout said. “I think I have wanted to coach since I was in middle school. I wanted to be a college wrestling coach.”

Bennett, 33, is currently living out his dreams of becoming a collegiate coach as a member of the Central Michigan University wrestling program.

Bennett, one of the most decorated wrestlers in CMU history, is in his 10th season on 32-year coach Tom Borrelli’s staff.

“I was getting ready to graduate, and a position opened up,” Bennett said. “I think Coach Borrelli knew that I really wanted to stay involved in wrestling and get into coaching. I was fortunate enough to slide into that position, and he had enough faith in me to let me stay here.”

Before getting the opportunity to coach, Bennett amassed eight years of unbridled success at the high school and collegiate levels.

He was a three-time Individual Finals champion at Rockford and helped lead the Rams to a Division 1 team championship as a junior.

“I had a really good high school experience, and I really enjoyed wrestling for our head coach at the time, Don Rinehart,” Bennett said. “He coached for a long time, and we always had some very competitive teams.

“In 2007, my junior year, we won the team state duals, but every year we were really competitive and had multiple individual state champions. Those were the type of teams I was able to wrestle on, which made it pretty exciting and pretty fun when you have those types of guys around you.”

After excelling through the junior ranks, Bennett made an immediate impact for the Rams and captured the Division 1 championship at 140 pounds as a freshman.

However, the following year, he took third at 152 after losing a semifinal match 2-1.

That defeat was humbling for Bennett but also showed him how to handle adversity.

“At the time, in my eyes, the world was ending,” Bennett said. “You look back and it probably was more of a positive. It's good to have those things happen to you, and you face some adversity.

“And I think that's more relatable to life rather than just when you win all the time. I did a lot of winning, but when things are really important, sometimes it's good to fail, for things not to go your way because it will probably happen for the rest of your life.

“You have to learn how to respond and come back from that and handle it the right way and just get back to work. At the time, I remember how devastated I was, but looking back it probably was a positive thing long term.”

Bennett wound up collecting two more Individual Finals titles, at 160 and 171 pounds, to end his high school career and then was named Mr. Wrestler, receiving the award given to the top senior wrestler by the state coaches association.

“I wasn't even thinking that I might get that,” he said. “There are so many great high school wrestlers that come out every year, and thinking about the guys I wrestled … to be singled out as the one chosen for that award was pretty special.”

After graduation, Bennett took his talents to Mount Pleasant. He could’ve gone anywhere to wrestle, but found the right fit at CMU.

“I knew I wanted to wrestle in college, and it was close to home, which I liked,” Bennett said. “I didn't feel like I had to go across the country to have an opportunity to accomplish my goals. I felt like I could stay here and do that.”

Bennett is the only four-time All-American in CMU history and one of three Chippewas to have earned four individual Mid-American Conference titles.

Bennett twice earned the Chick Sherwood Award as CMU’s most valuable wrestler and was named the MAC Wrestler of the Year in 2012. He also had earned the MAC Freshman of the Year Award in 2010.

Bennett ranks sixth in CMU history with 121 career victories, and his career win percentage of .834 is fourth all-time. In 2013, he finished 31-2 for a .939 win percentage, the second-best in program history. He also won a school-record 30 consecutive matches during that season and finished a personal-best fourth at the national tournament.

Bennett wrestles Clarkston’s Adam Lauzun for the Division 1 title at 171 pounds that season.“At the time I was disappointed with how my career went, because I was never a national champion,” Bennett said. “But I think looking back on it, I have a lot more appreciation for what I did.

“As a coach, I realize how hard it is to have success at the college level, and every year you see great wrestlers not make the podium. Sometimes I’m shocked when certain guys don’t place, and it makes me appreciate how hard it is to be a four-time All-American, let alone place one time or multiple times.”

The transition to the coaching side was a difficult process for Bennett, but he knew he wanted to mentor other wrestlers the way his former coaches did with him.

“You put so much into the sport and you realize how much time other people invested and how important it was for me to do well, and so I guess for me it was a hard transition to make,” Bennett said. “You’re so competitive and so focused on yourself, but then being able to help these guys improve, get better and hopefully accomplish their goals was something I was looking forward to doing.

“I had so many people help me do that, and then I was able to be in their shoes and give back to these guys.”

Coaching has kept him involved in a sport he loves.

“And I get to continue to learn and grow and develop in different areas, not just wrestling-wise,” he said. “I get to meet a lot of great people through wrestling and coaching. The guys who come through our program are pretty awesome people.

“I’m pretty fortunate, and I've really enjoyed the coaching side of it, being in the wrestling room with these guys. Getting them ready for a match and going over things after a match. There is a lot that goes into it, but I really enjoy it.”

The love of wrestling for Bennett began at 6 years old, when he was coached by his uncle Tom Bennett – a former Division III All-American – and dad Doug.

“My uncle did a ton for me wrestling-wise, and my dad was the conditioning and discipline-type guy,” Bennett said. “Together it was a good mix. For as long as I can remember, I was always in really good shape. I loved wrestling right away.”

Bennett admits that he probably missed out on a lot when he was younger because he was determined to be the best and his life revolved around wrestling and training.

“It can be a tough way to live, but at the time that's what I wanted to do so that's what I did,” Bennett said. “When I was little my dad always told me that I'm not going to take you across the country to these tournaments if we are not training to win the tournament, not going to fill out the brackets, so my whole life the goal was always to be a champion.

“Going into high school my goal was to be a four-time state champion. I wanted to win the senior nationals, the junior nationals, and I won all those things. Going into college, in my mind, the next step was to be a national champion, and I don't think you realize how hard it really is, and I don't think I realized how hard it was to be an All-American.”

Bennett was promoted to CMU associate head coach last June after spending nine seasons as an assistant. He said the biggest difference with his new position is on the administrative side.

“I do a lot of scheduling and budgeting, things I didn’t do as much before in my years as an assistant coach,” he said. “I’ve taken the reins on some of these things, and it’s good for me to learn.”

Bennett is content with his current role at CMU and continuing to evolve as a coach under Borrelli. However, he hopes to one day take that next step as the head coach of a collegiate program.

“That’s my ultimate goal with coaching,” he said. “When that will happen, I don’t know. I guess I’m not in a hurry. When it happens, it will happen. I’m just trying to learn as much as I can right now.

“Coach Borrelli is an unbelievable coach, leader, mentor and role model, so I’m trying to learn as much as I can from him and soak up as much as I can from him until I get an opportunity somewhere to be a head coach. Right now I'm happy with where I'm at, and when that time comes, it will come.”

Bennett, 33, is engaged to former Chippewas field hockey player Erica Garwood. The couple has been dating for seven years and will get married next month.

“We’re excited, and I’m sure life will really change when we start having kids,” Bennett said. “But it’s good right now. We both went to school here, and she has a good job at an elementary school in town. We enjoy it up here.”

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PHOTOS (Top) Rockford’s Ben Bennett stands atop the podium at the 2008 Individual Finals, and now with fiancé Erica Garwood. (Middle) Bennett wrestles Clarkston’s Adam Lauzun for the Division 1 title at 171 pounds that season. (Current photo courtesy of Ben Bennett; 2008 photos from MHSAA Archives.)