Ithaca, Sandusky Top Tough D4 Contenders

March 5, 2016

By Mark Meyer
Special for Second Half

LANSING – The Division 4 runner-up banner hanging in the Ithaca gymnasium served as a reminder for coach Dan Macha and his bowlers.

A gentle reminder that there was still some work to be done in order to climb that final step toward an MHSAA girls bowling championship.

“We finished second in 2010 after having finished third in the Regional, just like we did this year,” said Macha, now in his eighth year with the program. “We didn’t want a repeat. We wanted to come here (Royal Scot) and finish the job.”

The Yellowjackets won their first MHSAA Finals bowling title in school history Friday afternoon by defeating rival New Lothrop by three pins in the championship match, 1,141-1,138.

“When we were up 50 pins after the two Baker games we felt pretty good,” said senior captain Channing Gulick, “but we knew we had to stay focused. We know them (New Lothrop) and how they bowl, and they weren’t going to make it easy for us in the final game.”

Gulick, who played the role of super-sub all season long, bowled what Macha called “an incredibly clutch game” in the final game of the qualifying round to vault the Yellowjackets into the second seed for the match play Quarterfinals. Gulick rolled a 229 – 80 pins above her average – to help Ithaca leapfrog five spots prior to the start of match play.

And when freshman Bethany Slater struggled in the first three frames of the Final against New Lothrop, Gulick came off the bench to complete a 160 game. Junior Hayley Sigafoose – who reached the Semifinals as an individual on Saturday – led Ithaca with a 176 in the championship match. Sigafoose had plenty of support from Shannon Whitaker (161), Heidi Seeley (154) and Arianna Woodrow (139).

New Lothrop worked its way to the championship match with victories over top-ranked Vandercook Lake in the Quarterfinals (1,178-1,081) and Sandusky in the Semifinals (1,142-1,125). Kelsey Moore led all bowlers in the championship match with a 236 while teammate Mattie Stewart rolled a 171.

“I think Coach (Macha) might have been a little concerned after we finished third at the Regional, but we knew we had the potential to turn it around here,” Slater said. “We had a lot of confidence and very little drama all season long.”

Macha said team unity played a big part in the MHSAA championship run.

“Trust Everyone and Myself (TEAM), that’s what we preached,” said Macha. “The coaches trusted each other and so did the girls. I could not be more happy or proud of what we accomplished.”

For Sandusky senior Brett Hancock, the path to his team’s first MHSAA title since 2005 was a smooth and laughter-filled ride, built around inside jokes shared by teammates and a mutual respect for their talent and ability on the lanes.

“You don’t think about it (state title) too much when you’re bowling,” Hancock said, “but then you wake up the next day and realize you’re the state champion. That’s a pretty good feeling, no question about it.”

Sandusky’s route to the title match victory over St. Charles (1,331-1,233) went directly through Bad Axe, a team with which the Redskins had split two previous matches this season.

“We lost to them at Regionals so it was definitely time to make up for it,” Hancock said. “We were feeling good all day, cracking a few jokes and staying loose.”

Hancock, who averaged 211.5 during the season, rolled a 266 in the final game of the Quarterfinal match against Niles Brandywine. Hancock’s only regret was not striking out in the 10th frame. However, junior teammate Cody Johnston completed his 10th frame triple to roll an identical 266 and give the Redskins the momentum they needed heading into the Semifinal match with Bad Axe.

“We had a very good week of practice and we were as ready as we were going to be,” said Johnston, whose older brother Tyler won the Division 4 singles title in 2012. “Our starting five all averaged 200 or better this season, so we knew we had the talent to win it if we concentrated on filling the frames.”

Senior Logan Hughes led Sandusky with a 245 in the championship victory over St. Charles, while Hancock and Johnston rolled 207 and 194, respectively.

Sandusky coach Jeremy Johnston, Cody’s father, singled out Hughes and freshman Dakota Pallas as key contributors to the victory over St. Charles.

“We put Dakota in the lineup because one of our regular starters was struggling,” Johnston said, “and he responded by doing exactly what we needed. Logan’s 245 gave us a strong game at the top of the lineup, and so it all worked out well.”

St. Charles junior Kyle Tuttle, who won his third straight singles title Saturday, led his team with a 214 in the championship match. St. Charles had advanced to the Final with a Quarterfinal victory over third-seeded St. Louis (1,213-1,184) and a Semifinal win over second seed Vandercook Lake (1,442-1,297).

Johnston, head coach since 2009, was an assistant coach for Sandusky’s runner-up finishes in 2004 and 2008.

“We thought coming out of Regionals that we had a pretty shot to win it all,” Johnston said, “but you still have to execute the shots when they count. This team had good chemistry, and they fed off each other. When we needed a strike or big shot to get us going, we got it.”

Click for full boys results and girls results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Ithaca girls bowling team. (Middle) Sandusky boys bowling team.

Fast-Building Fowlerville Bowling Program Growing Into Striking Success

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

January 26, 2023

HOWELL – The Fowlerville bowling program started with a question.

Mid-MichiganBrent 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.

Brent Wood shows his left-handed, left-footed bowling style. 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.

Fowlerville’s girls and boys teams this season, including head coach Denise Wood, top row far left, and assistants Kevin Mahon and Kelli Wilbur. Challenge accepted.

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.

Fowlerville’s Paige Frazier, top, and Emma Wilbur. 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.)