EAST GRAND RAPIDS – Hunter Myers is performing a rare double role in athletics this winter.
The Vicksburg High School graduate is the first-year varsity bowling coach at East Grand Rapids, while also competing as a collegiate bowler.
The 21-year-old Myers is a junior on the Aquinas College men’s bowling team.
His opportunity to take the reins of the program occurred while interning for Pioneers’ athletic director Tim Johnston.
“He lost his bowling coach, and he brought me in and asked if I would take it,” Myers said. “I thought that would be a great idea, and I thought I could help out a lot and try to make things a little better.”
Myers inherited a boys squad that had struggled in recent years. East Grand Rapids won only one match in 2019 and was 6-14 last season.
This season was put on hold by the pandemic as high school sports were shut down in early November. But bowling was one of the first sports to return in January, and it’s currently been a season to remember as the Pioneers are experiencing a turnaround that few expected.
“Things weren’t going very good for them, so I was looking forward to helping them in any way I could,” Myers said. “It’s been an amazing experience, and I can’t complain one bit. I’m doing it for the kids, because when everything got shut down I didn’t even know if I would have a team.
“We had a girls team of seven and 18 guys came out so I was able to pick six and we’ve run with it ever since. I love the kids, and everything has been going well.”
The boys team is currently 9-5-1 on the season after a loss to conference leader Byron Center on Wednesday.
That setback hasn’t diminished the vast improvement made by the Pioneers’ starters. Each bowler has made giant strides and improved his averages by 30-50 pins.
“I just got blessed with a good team with kids who are competitive and had some basics down,” Myers said. “They just needed some fine tuning, and now their averages have increased by a lot.”
East Grand Rapids has been led by junior Corbin Olsson, who boasts a 201 average.
Olsson averaged around 170 last season, but has seen his pin total rise through hard work and the addition of an experienced fresh face at the helm.
“I thought it was going to be good to have someone like him coach us because he has experience bowling in tournaments and bowling in high school and college, so he knows what it’s like,” Olsson said. “Last year was a pretty rough season, but with the new coaches and some new kids on the team it has definitely helped.
“Coach has helped us with positioning, as far as where to stand and aim the ball. He also helps us to stay positive and have a good mental attitude toward the game.”
Junior Finn Moher is averaging 189, while the other juniors include Gavin Bishop (173), Cameron Brandstadt (176) and Michael Columbo (167).
Beau Stancil (151) is the lone senior.
Myers said he is pleasantly surprised by the team’s success.
“I didn’t know we would be doing as well as we have,” he said. “Now we’re third in the conference and we’re looking pretty good for Regionals coming up.”
While Myers has provided fresh insight to his team, he said his bowlers have dedicated themselves to getting better.
“They are putting in a lot of time on the lanes this year because they see what they can do, and they go out on their own and bowl together on the weekends,” he said. “We have two practices a week where they all work hard for an hour and a half, and we work on picking up spares and figuring out oil patterns as to what their ball is doing.”
Moher said Myers is showing the team different aspects of bowling that they didn’t know prior to his arrival.
“Just learning how to adjust to different lane conditions and how to move when our shot is not working,” he said. “He’s given us some confidence in ourselves and we’re starting to win, which has helped a lot.
“Our first Bakers game is usually pretty good, but then the second one we don’t do as well. Individually we do really well, and I’m already looking forward to next year because I think we’re going to be really good with basically everyone coming back.”
Myers visited his former school for EGR’s first match, competing against his father James, who is the coach at Vicksburg.
Hunter won family bragging rights as the Pioneers rolled to a 26-4 win.
“My dad coached me in high school, and I called him and set up a match down there,” Myers said. “That was the first big surprise of the season, and that was a sweet victory for me.”
Myers said the parental support has been satisfying during the course of the season as East Grand Rapids has overcome past struggles en route to respectability.
“They think I’m some kind of wizard who made their bowlers really good, but they had it in them the whole time,” Myers said. “It’s just that nobody has really tapped into it.”
The Pioneers will compete next weekend at Regionals in Comstock Park.
“I think we have a shot at doing pretty well, and we’re definitely going to do a lot better than last year,” Olsson said. “It feels good to be on a winning team instead of one that loses all the time, and we all get along as a team. It’s been fun.”
Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for four years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at email@example.com with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTO: Hunter Myers, far left, is in his first season leading the East Grand Rapids boys bowling program. (Photo courtesy of the EGR bowling program.)
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.)