ALLEN PARK – Utica Eisenhower’s boys and Zeeland’s girls both went into the regular game portion of their Team Finals matches behind after the Baker round.
Both rallied and ended up claiming Division 1 championships Friday at Thunderbowl Lanes.
Eisenhower rallied from 34 pins down, taking advantage of splits by Salem in the 10th frame to win the crown by five pins, 1,454-1,449. Zeeland fell behind Jenison, the 2019 champion, but rallied in the regular games of the match to win 1,185-1,155 and claim its first Finals title.
“Just amazing,’’ said Zeeland coach Jeremey Baum. “We had shot an 1,119 early in the day, and the girls never gave up.”
“We fell behind, but we stayed positive,’’ senior Skylar Beverwyk added. “We knew we were going to get their best because they were the defending state champs.’’
Eagles senior Dylan Kelly struck out to finish with a 235 and secure his team’s title.
“Dylan has been there for us all year,’’ said Eisenhower coach John Snider. “He’s clutch for us. We got lucky. We had some things go our way in the 10th frame.
Said Kelly: “We kept our spirits up. It wasn’t over until it was over. It’s a special group. We bonded well. We pick each other up when we’re down.’’
Eisenhower fell behind after the first Baker game, losing 216-177, forcing the Eagles to play catchup.
They won the second Baker game, 198-193, but had 34 pins (409-375) to make up in the regular games.
Salem advanced to the championship match by eliminating Davison 1,419-1,243, while the Eagles dispatched of Farmington 1,314-1,160.
Salem had won titles in 2017 and 2013. Eisenhower had won a state championship in 2004 prior to the addition of the sport to the MHSAA lineup in 2006.
In the girls championship match, Jenison built a 63-pin lead after the first Baker game. Zeeland rallied in the second Baker game and headed into regular games trailing 355-325.
“It’s a grind, but the team kept its composure,’’ said Baum.
Perennial power Macomb Dakota was the boys’ top qualifier at 3,684, followed by Oxford (3,624) and fellow Macomb Area Conference Red opponent Eisenhower at 3,623.
Dakota’s run was short-lived as it fell to the eighth-seeded and always tough Davison 1,427-1,359. It was the first time in 16 years Davison had beaten Dakota, head-to-head or in tournament play. Second-seeded Oxford also fell in the quarterfinals, losing to Farmington 1,337-1,313.
Davison advanced to face Salem, which beat Livonia Franklin, 1,475-1,392, while Farmington faced Eisenhower in the other semifinal after Eisenhower had disposed of Swartz Creek, 1,553-1,149.
Zeeland advanced to the championship match by defeating Lake Orion, 1,280-1,194, while the reigning champion was dispatching New Baltimore Anchor Bay, 1,201-1,061.
In the girls’ qualifying round Monroe and Lapeer tied for eighth (3,013), resulting in a roll-off to determine which would face top qualifier Lake Orion (3,344). Lapeer won the tie-breaker, then fell to the Dragons 1,151-1,098.
Anchor Bay was the second seed at 3,184, and Jenison was third at 3,123. Jenison advanced over Westland John Glenn with a 1,415-1,381 victory to face Anchor Bay, which had beaten MAC rival St. Clair Shores Lakeshore 1,224-1,176.
In its quarterfinal, Zeeland opened some eyes with two bowlers shooting 253 and another 255 to set a school record with an 1,119 pin fall in the regular games portion of its match against Rockford. Zeeland advanced to the semifinals with a 1,484-1,232 romp.
Jenison defeated Anchor Bay by 140 pins, while Zeeland reached the final with an 86-pin victory.
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.)