By RICKY LINDSAY, WRESTLING BEAT REPORTER

Hassen Berry has wrestled since he was 11 years old. Along the way, he’s learned many lessons as the sport has become his passion. Recently, Berry added another honor to his long wrestling career, as he became the first ever National qualifier for the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

“It is an honor to become the first wrestler in UM-D history to make it to nationals,” said Berry. “I believe I represented UM-D with the utmost respect at the qualifiers tournament. I had to represent myself with respect, pride, and integrity, and always show good sportsmanship with the UM-D logo on my chest.”

Berry, 21, has enjoyed the success this season with UM-D and head coach Grant MacKenzie.

Hassen Berry became the first UM-D Wrestler to qualify for Nationals (Courtesy: Grant MacKenzie)

“It has been a great experience with coach MacKenzie,” said Berry. “We travel to different schools and do what we are best at. We compete and win.”

Wrestling coach Grant MacKenzie wasn’t surprised with Berry and his National qualification.

“I knew Berry had the potential to be a national qualifier a year ago after witnessing his prowess on the mat during our tri-meet with University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University,” said MacKenzie.

Berry says he’s put in the most work out of his entire wrestling career this season, which has been capped off with qualifying for Nationals.

“I was doing two workouts a day, two hours long each. It cut into my studies, but I still progressed in both. I knew what it was going to take to qualify for nationals, and I did it.”

Berry also credits a portion of his success this season to coach MacKenzie.

“My success on the mat this year was not only because of me, but because of my coach. Not only was he [MacKenzie] worried about wrestling, he always asked me how I was doing in school. The fact that he asked me shows me he cares.”

Berry went on to praise MacKenzie’s influence and efforts with the wrestling program.

“He has poured in double the amount of time I have put into this wrestling program,” said Berry. “He loves what he does and has also taught me to embrace and love what I do.”

Berry and the rest of the UM-D wrestlers had to overcome some challenges this season, which included finding a place to practice. Luckily, the team found several ‘homes’ throughout their season.

“We don’t have a place to practice, but many of the local high schools have been thoughtful with welcoming us into their practice rooms,” said Berry.

When Berry isn’t at UM-D, he’s at his alma matter, Fordson High School, where he volunteers his time with the wrestling program, which he calls a “great experience”.

MacKenzie had high praises for Berry and the impact he’s had on the wrestling program.

“Berry is a leader,” said Mackenzie. “Having a national qualifier in the wrestling club at University of Michigan-Dearborn will have a dramatic impact on next year’s program. This past week, after the GLC, I received multiple emails of interest about joining the club from outsiders. Berry opened the door of opportunity at Michigan-Dearborn and showed the wrestling community that it can be done.”

After the many tournaments he’s participated in throughout his life, Berry expressed excitement and importance over qualifying for Nationals, especially as a junior.

“I have come across many tournaments and experiences, but this one seems like the most important because its coming towards the end of my wrestling career and I want to finish off strong,” said Berry. “I want to give it all I have and say I did myself some good with wrestling.”

Berry won’t be able to attend the National Tournament this season due to costs, but hopes he and coach MacKenzie will be able to attend next year.