BATTLE CREEK — Dave Studer knew he was too small to play varsity football in high school, and when someone approached him about wrestling, “I had no clue what it was,” he said.
“I thought they did it in a ring like pro wrestling.”
That was in the early 1960s at Port Huron High School. Intrigued, Studer decided to try it and got hooked.
In fact, he got so hooked, he is now in his 54th year as head wrestling coach at Battle Creek Harper Creek.
Although he is still going strong, he does not get down on the mats to grapple with his wrestlers any more. That is the job of assistant coach Joe Yurisich.
“I’m their practice dummy most of the days,” Yurisich said, laughing.
Studer, 75, has received many accolades, including induction into the Harper Creek High School Hall of Fame and Michigan Wrestling Association Hall of Fame.
But there is one thing missing from his resume – a trip to the MHSAA Team Finals.
This year’s are Feb. 28-29 at Wings Stadium in Kalamazoo.
“The first two years I coached, I had some outstanding teams, but they didn’t have a team state meet at that time,” Studer said. (The team championship format was created in 1988.)
“One of the best teams I ever had, every kid won 80 percent of their matches, but we didn’t have any kind of team thing.”
Last week, the Beavers took a 17-3 record into Districts, winning their fifth consecutive title. They defeated Richland Gull Lake 46-24, then swept Vicksburg 84-0.
The Beavers will host Plainwell today in a Division 2 Regional first-round match.
After wrestling for four years at Western Michigan University, Studer graduated and had a government job when he got a phone call in 1967.
“They said Harper Creek’s wrestling coach was in an accident and they needed somebody to stand in for a little bit,” he said. “I said, ‘Sure I’ll do that.’
“My very first match, we just got beat terrible. I thought, maybe I’m not doing things right but I kept working at it. By the end of the season, we won the Regional Championship.”
The school district offered Studer the position and a job teaching physical education at the elementary school, and that sealed the deal.
He eventually taught psychology, then physical education and weightlifting at the high school, retiring from the classroom in 2001.
“I just like the people and the community,” he said. “We had a lot of support. The young men I was getting were good, hard-working kids.
“I had some other opportunities to go other places but I told them no, I was real happy right here.”
He still feels that way after 54 years. Things change of course, and one he’d like to see switch back are more opportunities for dual meets – the team had only two home meets this year but used to have six to eight, which provided more opportunities to create excitement for the sport in the community.
Plus, one of those past duals remains among his favorite memories.
“We were wrestling Lakeview at the old high school,” he said. “We had over 2,700 people come to that dual meet.
“The fire marshal turned away over 300 people. That’s why I like dual meets. People had to sit on the gym floor because we ran out of bleachers.”
Studer coached the fathers of many of his wrestlers, including Yurisich, who graduated from Harper Creek and Olivet College in the early 2000s.
“There really hasn’t been much change since I was in school,” Yurisich said. “The cool thing is that my father (Steve), who was (Studer’s) assistant a few years ago, also wrestled for Coach Studer.”
Steve Yurisich graduated in 1978 “so he wrestled for him in a different era,” his son said.
“We’ve had conversations. (Studer’s) mentality for the sport and his passion for the kids has never changed since my father can remember from ’78 to present day.”
Senior Trevor Brooks, who wrestles at 145 pounds, said he has learned a lot from Studer.
“He brings a lot of emotion and intensity and pride,” Brooks said. “We have to keep that pride up, knowing that we’re a good team and we have to keep the tradition going.
“I’ve learned a lot of life skills from him. You should never take a moment for granted because any given moment it can be taken from you because of injury. You just have to go out there and wrestle like it’s your last match.”
Yurisich, who teaches fifth grade math and science at the middle school, said Studer is in it for the kids.
Brooks joins seniors Greylon Dishman, Chandler Froehlich, Aspen Tyler Kortz, Jaden Mainstone and Ethan Shipley. Juniors are Brian DeJesus Castellanos Camacho, Joseph Edmonds, Easton Kolassa, Jake Pancoft, Noah Szarejko, Bryce Trimm and Merritt Wilson. The team’s lone sophomore is Matthew Martinez, and freshmen are Zachary Egan and Nicholas Martinez.
“The biggest thing that I notice as a coach and didn’t necessarily notice as a kid is he’s always trying to make the kid a better person later on in life, not necessarily at what they’re doing at the moment,” Yurisich said.
“Making sure that we grow good, young men, rather than just grow wrestlers.”
The outpouring of love from his wrestlers and supporters was evident four years ago when Studer was honored during his 50th year of coaching.
The school raised more than $40,000 for a scholarship and new wrestling mat.
Studer has not wavered from his original way of coaching.
“We worked a lot on mental training, getting mentally tough, not on winning and losing,” he said.
“I’ve never faulted kids when they get beat. I tell them it’s not the end of the world, it’s just one wrestling match. You’ve got your whole life to be a winner.”
Working with the athletes is what keeps him going.
“I enjoy it,” he said. “When I get to a point where I don’t enjoy it or I don’t think I’m doing a good job, then I will retire.”
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) Battle Creek Harper Creek sophomore Matthew Martinez locks up an opponent this season. (Middle) From left, coach Dave Studer, assistant Joe Yurisich and senior Trevor Brooks. (Below) Studer talks things over with senior Greylon Dishman. (Action photos by Jennifer Brooks; head shots by Pam Shebest.)
ROCKFORD – Ben Bennett knew from an early age what he wanted his career path to be.
“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.
“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.”
2023 Made In Michigan
July 20: Oakridge 3-Sport Star Potts Applying Lessons to 'Second Chapter' in Sales - Read
July 18: Frankfort Hoops Staff Bolstered by Past Stars Giving Back in Banktson, Kreski - Read
July 12: Championship Memories, High School Tennis' Impact Stick with Hackett Pair - Read
July 6: Brother Rice Finals Hero Aiming to Ace Family Life, Financial World - Read
July 5: Lapeer West 4-Time Finals Winner Set to Build Champions at Oklahoma - Read
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.)