By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half
JACKSON – At a time when it needed them most, strikes became contagious for the Corunna girls bowling team late in the third and final game of the MHSAA Division 3 championship match Friday at Airport Lanes.
Freshman Morgan Gilbert caught the bug initially. Bowling in the leadoff position, Gilbert struck from the fourth through seventh frames as Corunna wiped out a deficit against Coloma.
In that seventh frame, three of Gilbert’s four teammates followed with strikes as the Cavaliers defeated Coloma 1,233-1,170 for its first MHSAA championship in bowling.
“We didn’t really have anything going on, and someone needed to step up,” said Gilbert, who rolled 201 in the deciding match. “I felt like we needed to do it now, and if we didn’t do it, then we weren’t going to do it at all.”
Corunna, which a week earlier won its Regional at Eastland Bowl in Kalamazoo, was first after the morning qualifying by five pins ahead of Coloma. The Cavaliers defeated reigning champion Croswell-Lexington in the Quarterfinal and Grand Rapids South Christian in the Semifinal.
In the title match, Coloma won the first Baker game 183-144, and Corunna took the second 201-162, making it even going into the third and deciding individual match. Coloma started strong in the third game before Corunna regrouped.
“I was a little bit concerned, but these girls know what they have to do to battle back,” Corunna coach Ryan Koyne said.” They never give up. We had some nerves out there, you could definitely tell. I might have been the most nervous out of the entire group.”
Junior Hannah Eldridge, who made the Singles Semifinals a year ago, led Corunna with a 208 from the third spot.
“In the individuals you are by yourself, but winning states with a team is so different,” she said. “We just tried to keep each other going and keep making spares, but it was very nerve-wracking. I’m really proud of our team.”
Morgen Scott added 173 for Corunna, while freshman Brianna Eldridge had 156 and senior Sierra Howes added 150.
“There are no emotions to describe this,” Scott said. “It was the most thrilling thing you could ever think of. You can’t understand the feeling of winning states.
“It had never been done at Corunna before until today, and I’m the happiest person on earth right now.”
Howes said that bowling well late in games was something the team had done all day.
“I believed we could come back because most of the games we bowled today we were behind in the first five frames but then in the last five frames we came out and won,” she said. “I am very emotional right now. Being a senior and winning conference, regional and state is just beyond how words can explain.
“It’s really a great feeling.”
While winning in come-from-behind fashion was nothing new for Corunna, it was a new sensation for Armada’s boys, who trailed by 38 pins after the two Baker games before beating Richmond 1,202-1,166 to win the MHSAA championship.
“We started out good and then sort of hit a soft spot, but we pushed through,” leadoff bowler Edward Seefried, a sophomore, said. “There wasn’t much concern because we know we’re a good singles team and we could pull through. We really hadn’t fallen behind before, so we had to come back, so that was a little different.”
Armada, the Regional champion at Cherry Hill Lanes in Dearborn Heights, won its first Bowling Finals championship in school history and did it against a school with which it shares home lanes.
“We know them very well, so it was good to bowl them, and we knew before the last match that at least the state title was coming back to the conference.”
A 147 in the second Baker game left Armada 38 pins behind Richmond going into the final individual game.
“We were behind in the Baker, but we picked up some momentum late in the second game,” Armada coach James Carl said.
Armada was pretty steady in the final game, while Richmond was not able to keep its momentum from its scores of 178 and 198 in the two Baker games. Armada won the third game 867-794 to erase the 38-pin deficit and win the state championship.
Senior Zack Blackstock, who has been bowling since the second grade, led the way with a 198.
“The feeling is unreal,” he said. “We were down 38 pins, and my coach told me I just needed to cover my guy and every spare counted. I made everything I could. I ended with a 198 and threw it the best I could.
“I think the major turnaround was just keeping everyone together. We’re a good group of boys. When someone gets down, the others bring you up. You’re only as good as your weakest link.”
Seefried threw a 184 for Armada, followed by Kyle Gest (171), Nick Medley (161) and a combined 145 from Brandon Carrizales and Matt Hammer. Medley converted a tough 4-10 split late in the game that Seefried said “really changed things.”
Medley, a senior, said he was not concerned about the 38-pin deficit after the Baker games.
“Two Baker games don’t mean anything,” he said. “In the individuals you can shoot 1,000 pins, and in a Baker game you can only get 400. Anything can happen; you have five bowlers bowling 10 frames. They started off with some open frames, and that gave us a little motivation to get up and start throwing some strikes.
“This is a great way to end it.”
Armada, which was seeded No. 2 after the morning qualifying session, defeated Birch Run in the Quarterfinals and Jonesville, last year’s Division 4 champion, in the Semifinals. Defending Division 3 champion Fremont, which had won two of the previous three MHSAA titles, did not make it out of the morning qualifying session.
HOWELL – The Fowlerville bowling program started with a question.
Brent Wood was an eighth grader, bowling in the local rec department junior high league, when he saw the Howell High School team practicing a few lanes over one afternoon. He’d enjoyed bowling with his family growing up, but what grabbed his attention that day was the friendly atmosphere at the Highlanders’ practice – everyone seemed to be having fun.
So he asked his mom Denise, a speech therapist in the Fowlerville district, why their school didn’t have a team too.
She went to athletic director Brian Osborn for the answer, and it was a pretty simple one – the athletic department hadn’t been able to find a coach to start one up.
“I’m the kind of mom that if my kid wants it, I’ll see how I can make it happen,” Denise Wood said. “And when Brent is driven by something, I know he’ll do well at it.”
Denise Wood figured out how to bring high school bowling to Fowlerville – and then some.
Never before a coach, nor a bowler outside of family fun, she agreed to start a Gladiators high school bowling program – one that four years later has two varsities and a JV team and had to make cuts this winter for the first time.
Building any program from ground level is full of challenges. Throw in a pandemic, and it gets tougher for sure. But knocking down obstacles has been like knocking down pins – it’s a bit of a theme for the quickly-growing program, its coach and the now-senior who got things rolling.
Bowling began for Brent
Brent Wood had played baseball and flag football and wrestled growing up. He tried everything his mom would let him, and that’s impressive enough – he doesn’t have a complete right hip, just bone on bone where the femur and pelvis meet.
Considering that challenge, opportunities in those other sports faded as he grew older. And he wasn’t a big fan of school either. But Denise Wood knew a bowling team would motivate Brent to stay active and do well academically.
Does it hurt where that hip padding should be? Brent said no – it just feels like what he knows to be normal. But Mom said she can tell when it does, and he’s had 13 surgeries over the years. Brent still managed to play those sports and learn how to ride a bike with just his left leg – “and I still manage to bowl somewhat decent some days,” he said.
He’s actually become an all-league bowler – most recently finishing ninth at the White Lake Lakeland Invitational last weekend – while employing an uncommon style.
Generally, a left-handed bowler will land on the right foot when releasing the ball. Wood instead lands on his left, or opposite foot, to stay off the right one.
Denise Wood describes it as being a “very non-traditional single-handed lefty who has figured out how to make it work.” Brent said when he first started this bowling style, it was a little complicated – but last summer he took lessons and upped his knowledge by competing in a number of tournaments and against a variety of oil patterns. Additionally, “Over the summer I’ve seen one or two people land on the wrong foot like I do,” Wood said, “so I know I’m not the only one who does it.”
He'll be the second Fowlerville bowler to continue at the college level. He’ll join friend Trevor Cockerill, who graduated last year, at nearby Cleary University where he’ll compete for coach Hayley Dann – who impressed the family by telling them that instead of trying to change Brent’s style, she’ll “work with him with what he’s got,” Denise Wood recalled.
“That’s the coach I need, because that’s what Brent does – he works with what he’s got,” Denise said. “Brent is naturally athletically talented, and when it comes to stuff that’s athletic he’s quite the problem solver. He figures out how to do things.”
Starting from scratch
Mom figured things out, too.
Denise Wood calls herself a “google coach” – as in, she googles to learn drills and pick up tips on how to better guide the Gladiators. But considering the system she and her assistants have built over a short time, she’s not giving herself enough credit.
When Wood first asked Osborn why there wasn’t a program, she followed up by asking if a potential coach needed to be a good bowler. Osborn said not necessarily – if she was willing to learn the bowling side, he would help with how school-based sports work and take care of as much paperwork as possible.
First, the team needed somewhere to bowl. Fowlerville has made its home at Howell’s Bowl-E-Drome, about a 20-minute drive for practices twice a week.
The bowlers arrived. Fowlerville’s first season in 2019-20 saw 10 boys and two girls come out, making up a co-ed varsity and boys junior varsity team.
Next came “learning the bowling side” – and definitely, the internet helped. Mining various bowling websites and coaching resources, she’s put together a series of drills – all of her bowlers have copies of each in a folder they keep on hand – and with assistants Kelli Wilbur and Kevin Mahon designed practices to begin at the start of the season with skills assessments and then be organized by ability level to provide for more focused attention and instruction. The bowlers also make use of the school’s weight room one day a way – adjusting all of this around schedules for students who also dance, play in the band and train for other sports.
Wilbur and Mahon are experienced bowlers, and their additions have allowed Wood the last few years to focus more on team-building activities and administrative responsibilities like signing up for tournaments and data collection. For competitions, the three coaches take turns coaching each team so that all three become familiar with all of the Gladiators’ styles.
The majority of the bowlers are newcomers to the sport. Junior Emma Wilbur – Kelli’s daughter and the top roller on the girls team – counted herself and two more teammates who had grown up bowling.
“A lot of kids that come in, come in with no bowling experience whatsoever. They just heard it was fun, they wanted to be part of a team,” Wood said. “So this year we actually did an interview for the kids – they had to fill out a personal interview for why they came out for bowling. A lot of it was to have fun, become part of a team, and some kids said to become a better bowler.”
Turning to Paige
After a promising start, the program simply had to survive its second year.
With COVID-19 making everything more complicated, Fowlerville found itself with only five bowlers for the 2020-21 season – and couldn’t even bowl as a team at its Regional with Emma Wilbur in quarantine. Families weren’t allowed to watch competitions, and just getting the word out was a challenge.
But Paige Frazier saved the day, figuratively speaking – and more realistically, potentially the program.
She solved some of the information block by starting Facebook and Instagram feeds for the bowling program that included video streams of competitions and updated information on cancelations and quarantines. “It definitely brought in a lot of attention,” Frazier remembered.
“If we hadn’t had Paige our COVID year, we wouldn’t have had a season at all,” Wood said. “Paige, I call her my female rock, because she kept the team alive.”
The work done during the COVID season paid off as the team got back in gear for last winter. The bowlers added to their social media marketing by hanging up fliers and getting word out on the program in the school’s morning announcements, and for 2021-22 enough bowlers came out to have separate girls and boys varsities for the first time.
“I had a lot of people ask me about it. A lot of people didn’t even know about it for a good two years,” Emma Wilbur said. “I had a couple friends who said they would try it out.”
Off and rolling again
The interview results from tryouts this season check out. While the team is serious about competing and succeeding, having fun and being part of a team are top priorities for most. The car rides to practices and bus rides to competitions are the best parts.
There’s still some convincing to do among classmates who might not consider bowling a sport. “They laugh about it until they find out we have a 1:30 dismissal for all the meets,” Wilbur said. But she and Frazier both play other sports too – Wilbur soccer and Frazier tennis – and realize the value in what they’ve helped create.
“I think being able to do something that you love to do, with all of your friends, a sport that you can go and do on the weekends and go and do after school … anytime that you want to you can go and do that,” Wilbur noted.
“Bowling's a really social sport,” Frazier added, “so you just learn to get along really well with your teammates, and just kinda relax and enjoy it.”
The Gladiators bowl in league matches once a week and have tournaments most January and February weekends through the regular season. Osborn said he’s excited to see so much interest at each grade level and is hopeful the program will continue to grow.
Brent Wood asked a winning question. The answer has been even better.
“It’s nice to see that we got everyone together that loves to do what we love to do,” Brent Wood said.
“Just seeing everyone enjoy the moment.”
Geoff Kimmerly joined the MHSAA in Sept. 2011 after 12 years as Prep Sports Editor of the Lansing State Journal. He is a senior editor of MHSAA.com's editorial content and has served as MHSAA Communications Director since January 2021. Contact him at Geoff@mhsaa.com with story ideas for the Barry, Eaton, Ingham, Livingston, Ionia, Clinton, Shiawassee, Gratiot, Isabella, Clare and Montcalm counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Fowlerville bowler Ethan Hall begins his approach. (2) Brent Wood shows his left-handed, left-footed bowling style. (3) Fowlerville’s Paige Frazier, top, and Emma Wilbur. (4) Fowlerville’s girls and boys teams this season, including head coach Denise Wood, top row far left, and assistants Kevin Mahon and Kelli Wilbur. (Photos courtesy of the Fowlerville bowling program.)