Sturgis Finds Place Among State's Elite

March 1, 2016

By Wes Morgan
Special for Second Half

In his ninth year guiding the Sturgis wrestling team, Bryan Boughton still didn’t feel as if he belonged to the fraternity of accomplished coaches who also led their respective teams into the MHSAA Division 2 Quarterfinals on Friday. 

Nobody paid much attention to him or his eighth-seeded Trojans, who were there for the first time in school history. Even perennial power and defending champion Lowell overlooked Sturgis in that opening matchup at Central Michigan University.

In the end, Sturgis didn’t have nearly enough firepower to overtake Lowell, which won the Quarterfinal match, 52-18, before eventually beating second-seeded St. Johns on Saturday for the championship.  

“We did some damage to Lowell and actually got the coach’s attention,” Boughton said.

The Trojans, who finished the year 27-8 overall and second to Allegan in the Wolverine Conference, held an 18-10 lead through the first six weight classes against Lowell, but a gang of state-ranked wrestlers in the lower weights for the Red Arrows proved to be far more than Sturgis could handle.

After the disappointment of losing began to subside, the Trojans recognized how much of an accomplishment it was to reach the big stage.

It was a really cool experience,” said senior Cole Campbell, a winner by pin at 189 pounds vs. Lowell. “We were already facing the number one school in D2, so our coach wasn't really on us like it was a must win. “It was more of a, 'You know what's coming; go out and wrestle,' attitude towards it. 

“Our main goal this year was to win Regionals, and we accomplished that, so anything after was really a bonus. The atmosphere was a lot different than a normal match, too. A lot of eyes are on you and big swings in momentum match by match. We actually got to start in the tougher part of our lineup, so we were going back and forth through the first half of the dual.”

The 2014-15 season was integral for the Sturgis program. With a school record of 35 dual-meet victories, Boughton believed last year would be the breakout campaign for the Trojans. A Regional championship bout against Niles, however, proved to be the wrong matchup for the Trojans. 

With the bulk of its lineup returning intact this winter, including strong upper weights with the likes of seniors Luke Carver (160 pounds), Campbell, Anthony Neal (215) and Jake Stevens (285), Sturgis hoped to pair its better team with a more favorable postseason path.

That all came together when Sturgis thumped Vicksburg by 69 points and topped Mattawan, 40-27, in the District tournament before eking past Stevensville-Lakeshore, 30-27, and soundly defeating Battle Creek Harper Creek at Regionals. 

“Wrestling is all about matchups and how people line up,” Boughton said. “I thought we were going to have to face Niles again. But when I found out Lakeshore beat them, I was like, ‘Ooh, we might actually have a chance at this.’”

Boughton said the Trojans started to believe again. He also noticed they were “fresh, fat and happy” at a time of year when a lot of grapplers are struggling with diminished energy reserves from making weight.

“They got the fire and everybody did their job, things went our way and we were able to take advantage of it because we were prepared,” Boughton explained.

And they had more than just the “Four Horsemen,” as Boughton called his stalwarts at the upper weights. Wrestlers such as Noah Gleason (135) and Koehl Meek (145), as they had been all season, were key cogs in the Trojans’ successful march toward March.

“The experience was great,” said Carver, who along with Neal and Stevens, will compete this week at the Individual Finals at The Palace of Auburn Hills. “It was something that when I was a freshman I never thought we could accomplish. We have a special group in the room, the kind of kids who might not be the most skilled or strongest, but have heart. 

“I think that's what made the difference for us this year. Drawing Lowell was hard, but I think we displayed that message that we don't roll over for anyone. As a captain, I couldn't be more proud of our team and I look forward to watching them grow from here.” 

Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Cole Carver works toward a win at 160 pounds Friday against Lowell in a Division 2 Quarterfinal. (Middle) Cole Campbell’s hand is raised after he wins his match at 189 pounds. (Click for more from

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.)