Standard Bearer of a 4-Time Champ

March 2, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

AUBURN HILLS – Adam Coon attended the MHSAA Individual Finals for the first time as a seventh grader, the son of a successful coach who knew what it took to grow a champion.

And Adam hoped to become one too. But he really wanted to know what it took to become the wrestler who carried the American flag during the athletes’ Grand March before the matches began.

“I told him the guys up there are the best in the state. So you’re probably going to have to be a four-timer,” Fowlerville coach Dan Coon recalled. “You better show yourself that you’re a four-timer and worthy to carry the American flag.”

Adam Coon did carry the flag into The Palace of Auburn Hills before Saturday’s Individual Finals. And only a few minutes later, he became just the 17th MHSAA wrestler to finish his high school career with a championship won every season.

Coon pinned Eaton Rapids senior Trent Hurd in 1:13 to win the championship at 285 pounds and finish this winter 55-0. He pinned every opponent he faced this season, and ended with a career record of 211-3 – with a 194-match winning streak dating to his freshman year that ranks as seventh-longest in MHSAA history.

All four of Coon’s championships came at either 285 or 215 pounds, making him also the first of that elite group to win his four at the heaviest weights.

Carrying in the flag was “a dream comes true.” But winning the titles was pretty great too.

“Since I got that first one, I was going to see if I could get the fourth,” Coon said. “I just got the opportunity, and I took advantage of it. Praise God, I got the fourth.”

Dan Coon has been the one to keep Adam grounded, especially with pressure mounting this season. Before they took the mat Saturday, Dad reminded son of something he’d heard: “The sun will always rise tomorrow. Just a whole lot brighter when you win.”

Adam’s other childhood dream had been to get a lot closer to seeing what that bright sun looks like. He’ll study aerospace engineering while wrestling at the University of Michigan, and has been set on designing a spacecraft to accommodate taller astronauts since finding out as a child that he’d probably end up too sizable to make the trip.

Dan is looking forward to watching what his son will accomplish next, be it on the mat or beyond while using the lessons he learned during these championship runs.

“Is he going to stop wrestling? No. It will never leave him now,” Dan Coon said. “He’s always going to be a wrestler.”

Eaton Rapids’ Hurd finished 43-12. Click for full results, and read below for recaps of each championship match and comments from all the winners.


Champion: Joe Garcia, Adrian, Jr. (31-1)
Fall, 2:53, over Ian Parker, St. Johns, Fr. (48-3)

Garcia was the MHSAA runner-up in 2011. He then came in fifth at his weight in 2012 – but didn’t get that longed-for chance to return to the championship match and come away with a win.

Until Saturday. An offseason of increased preparation and conditioning and a switch in strategy from that freshman Final gave him the edge to win his first MHSAA title.

“It lets me know my hard work paid off,” Garcia said. “My freshman year, I was more focused on defense. And this year, I focused more on the attack. I didn’t stop moving.”


Champion: Mason Smith, Clio, Soph. (55-4)
Fall, 3:30, over Zeth Dean, Lowell, Fr. (40-6)

Smith felt pretty good about his chances of coming into his first season, 2011-12, and winning an MHSAA championship. And he nearly got that opportunity, before finishing fourth at 103 pounds.

Now, thanks to some push by his coaches, he feels set up to make a run at finishing with three titles instead.

“Last year, I was really lazy. I didn’t want to do anything. I thought I’d just win,” Smith said. “My coach came at me pretty hard, all of them. None of them let me just sit around and do nothing like I did last year.

“(Now,) I’m going to come back hard and go for it.”


Champion: Bailey Jack, Lowell, Jr. (39-8)
Decision, 6-4, over Dean Somers, Lapeer West, Sr. (46-2)

Only 56 wrestlers in Michigan can say they finished the season with an Individual Finals win. And Jack will take it, especially coming off the disappointment of his Red Arrows losing to St. Johns in the Team Final a week ago.

Jack offered praise for Somers, a runner-up in 2012 – “He’s tough everywhere. You don’t make it to the Finals being a sissy,” – and thankful for the jumpstart he received to prepare for next winter.

“It’s a great bounce-back, morally, for me,” Jack said. “Now I can go into the offseason working just as hard as I did this year.”


Champion: Zac Hall, St. Johns, Jr. (48-0)
Technical Fall, 23-8, over JacQuan Moore, St. Clair Shores Lakeshore, Sr. (44-4)

Over the course of just a few minutes Saturday, Zac Hall put himself on the cusp of making some incredible history next season.

Not only will Hall be shooting to become the 18th wrestler to win four MHSAA championships. He’ll also try to become perhaps only the second (more research to come) to win four individual titles and wrestle for four team champions as well.

Hall had previously won his individual titles at 112 and 103. Davison’s Brent Metcalf won individual titles from 2002-05 and was on team champions as well all four seasons.

“One kid’s ever done it, so that’s a pretty incredible class to be put with,” Hall said. “(But) you get here at the Palace, anything can happen. … You’ve just got to be smart, keep your head.

“I had three matches where I thought I was going to pin the kid. Kids fight at another level when you get here. They don’t get easier.”


Champion: Jacob Schmitt, St. Johns, Sr. (51-0)
Fall, 0:47, Christian Schoenherr, Bay City Western, Soph. (42-8)

Schmitt admitted his final high school season flew by this winter. He’ll continue to wrestle at the college level – for Northwestern – but first has finished a legacy that stacks up with the best.

He capped the weekend with his third MHSAA individual title – he also won 103 in 2010 and 125 last season – to go with four team championships. Schmitt also was runner-up at 112 as a sophomore.

“It went quick this year, but I’m happy with the way I went out. With a pin in the first period, I couldn’t be happier,” he said. “I would say (this season) started out rough for us, with those losses. (St. Johns finished 22-4). But we kept it together as a team, pulled through at the end, great teammates pushing each other all the time.”


Champion: Logan Massa, St. Johns, Soph. (42-2)
Fall, 2:45, over Steve Bleise, Chelsea, Jr. (45-1)

Massa knew something about competing in an MHSAA Final – he finished runner-up at 119 last season. But the coach in his corner knew a little bit more.

Brother Taylor Massa returned to The Palace to sit in Logan’s corner, a year after the former finished his high school career as the 16th to win four MHSAA titles.

“He’s knows the environment real well. He helps me out a lot,” Logan said.

“I wasn’t going to let (last year) happen again. I trained harder, and I was just going to train as hard as I could until I got it.”


Champion: Kyle Simaz, Allegan, Jr. (61-1)
Major Decision, 22-13, over Adam Nichols, Lapeer West, Sr. (50-5)

“We got one folks; good deal,” a relieved Simaz said after capping his third MHSAA Finals appearance with his first win.

Simaz had finished runner-up at 130 pounds last season and at 119 in 2011. And not long into Saturday’s championship match, Nichols nearly pinned him.

But by staying on his feet – Simaz’s strength – he turned the tide of the match quickly in his favor.

“I was really disappointed to start the match off like that. That’s a bad note. But luckily we came though that and pulled off a victory,” Simaz said.

“I’ve been waiting a long time to get one of these, so I’m very relieved. I feel like a lot of stuff came off my shoulders.”


Champion: Ben Whitford, St. Johns, Sr. (37-0)
Technical Fall, 22-7, over Casey Burandt, Niles, Sr. (31-2)

Whitford also celebrated winning a fourth state-level championship Saturday. He clinched his second MHSAA title to go with his championship last season at 140 and two he won while living in Illinois as a freshman and sophomore.

He keeps up with some friends he wrestled with while in Illinois. But he’s definitely a Michigan guy now, and signed to join U-M next season.

“It’s a weird feeling that it’s all over,” Whitford said. “For the last two years, I don’t think I would’ve improved more, had better friends, or been able to do the things we’ve done without the guys around me. And I’m just proud to be back in St. Johns.”


Champion: Josh Pennell, St. Johns, Sr. (40-0)
Fall, 1:44, over Fritzel Findeisen, Niles, Sr. (49-6)

Pennell has been a significant part of St. Johns’ program through all four team championships, and finished third individually the last two seasons after placing second at 119 as a freshman.

But the Michigan State recruit felt like it was inevitable that like many of his teammates, he’d get an individual title too. And in his final high school match, he made that hope come true.

“It’s long overdue, I felt like. And what a better year than senior year,” Pennell said. “I wasn’t going to stop until I had a state title.

“I thought about (the last few years) a lot. I was able to come back and wrestle and win my match for third. Those were all very close matches, and all I thought about was winning it and winning those close matches.”


Champion: Devon Pingel, North Branch, Fr. (40-3)
Decision, 10-5, over Jordan Sullivan, Coopersville, Sr. (39-3)

Pingel explained that he’d wrestled on a similarly large stage before –prior to high school, when he won a tournament in Tulsa, Okla.

But he was excited about the opportunities that could come with finishing his first trip to The Palace with an MHSAA title as a freshman.

“I learned to push myself a lot harder,” Pingel said. “I wanted to be a four-time state champ. I got a start to it.”


Champion: Angus Arthur, St. Johns, Soph. (46-3)
Decision, 5-2, over Brett Dempsey, Mattawan, Sr. (55-1)

It’s fair to say Arthur, for one of the few times this season, was the underdog in his championship match. Dempsey finished third at 171 in 2012 and hadn't lost this winter.

But it’s been a fun two weeks for the Redwings, given their team title won in Battle Creek. And Arthur felt confidence in the preparation he’d received facing some of the toughest teams in the state this season.

“I felt like I was (the underdog). (But) I didn't really look at the record,” he said. “I knew I could win, and I just went out there.”


Champion: Payne Hayden, St. Johns, Sr. (45-1)
11-9, Decision, over Garett Stehley, Lowell, Jr. (30-1)

For once, Hayden said, he felt “great” at the end of an MHSAA Finals.

He’d had plenty of success before, making the Semifinals his first two seasons and finishing runner-up at 215 a year ago. But ending number one was an entirely different experience.

“Every year, I’ve had seven losses no matter what age. (But) I’ve always been right at the top of the podium,” Hayden said. “It feels good right now to finally get that chip off my shoulder.”

Hayden finished undefeated in Michigan this winter. His lone loss came to Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward’s Domenic Abounader, who he’ll wrestle with next season at U-M.


Champion: Brian Moran, Fowlerville, Sr. (56-0)
Decision, 11-5, over Taylor Kornoely, Lowell, Sr. (36-1)

The unfortunate circumstance of Saturday’s final Division 2 match was that one senior was going to finish his final season with a loss and just shy of winning his first MHSAA title.

Moran led 6-4 with a period remaining before pulling away. And the emotion of the moment wasn’t lost on the Gladiators’ standout, who lost to teammate Adam Coon at this weight in the 2010 championship match and finished fourth at his weight last season.

“Since I’ve been in fourth grade, I’ve put my heart and soul in this sport. And to leave this sport at that type of note, on top, it’s amazing," Moran said. "I’ve been striving for this my whole high school career. I don’t care if it’s a state title. I feel like I just won the Olympics."

PHOTO: Fowlerville senior Adam Coon has his arm raised after winning his fourth MHSAA title Saturday at The Palace of Auburn Hills. (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.)