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 protected] 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.)
WATERFORD – All Waterford Mott head boys bowling coach Rob Hanson wanted to do was have a personal practice session.
Little did he know it would randomly plant a seed that would eventually produce some state high school bowling history.
More than two years ago, after finding some rare time outside his coaching duties to work on his own game at a local center, Hanson noticed a kid coming in with his grandmother to bowl.
Hanson immediately took notice of how well the kid was bowling and the fact he had a pair of Waterford Mott soccer shorts on. So he asked the kid, then-sophomore Brendan Riley, if he went to the school.
After Riley told Hanson that he did, Hanson had another question for him.
“Why didn’t you try out for bowling?” Hanson said.
Riley said at the time, his mother wasn’t familiar with the bowling team’s schedule and thought it would take too much time away from school.
Once Hanson explained the schedule to the family, Riley ended up trying out after all and made the JV team.
Weeks later, Riley worked his way up to varsity.
The rest, as they say, is history.
After bowling on the varsity for a majority of his sophomore year, Riley as a junior last year won the Division 1 Finals singles championship, capping a rapid rise to the top that might not have happened if not for that chance encounter.
“It was quite surprising,” Riley said. “I wasn’t expecting to see the coach that day. I was just going up to have a good time with my grandma.”
Last year for Riley turned out to be all about his individual success, as he led the Lakes Valley Conference with a 217 average and ended up seeded No. 8 out of the Finals qualifying block.
Riley then rolled to the title, earning a 14-pin win over Mattawan’s Charlie Johnson in the final.
For Riley, his success at the MHSAA Tournament boiled down to one thing: Composure.
“I think the only reason I won was because I had the best attitude,” said Riley, who also was a member of Mott’s soccer team in the fall. “Everyone I bowled in the match play started to get upset at themselves every time they got a split or when they didn’t get a strike.”
As a senior, Riley’s average actually has been down a little compared to last year’s 207, but what his teammates have done has been a bigger testament of his success – and made it even more enjoyable than what he accomplished last year as an individual.
Riley enters Friday’s Regional tournament third on Mott in average behind teammates Dylan Keating and Zechariah Thomas, but that is more a reflection of the improvement those two have shown and how they were inspired by what Riley did last year.
“He hasn’t had a bad year,” Hanson said of Riley. “It’s just that his success is breeding desire for everyone else. His leadership quality is amazing.”
Mott will travel Friday to Century Bowl with four tournament titles, including winning the LVC championship, and a 15-1 record.
Bowling is as fickle a sport as any, but no doubt the Corsairs are contenders if they bowl as they’re capable.
“As a team, it feels a lot better to get more things accomplished beyond just myself,” Riley said.
Riley also has a college future, as he has signed to bowl for Goshen College in Indiana as part of the first recruiting class for the new program.
An individual title last year, team domination so far this season and a future in college bowling? That’s a great crop of greatness that was planted simply by running into Hanson that one day.
“It’s a great story,” Hanson said.
Keith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties
PHOTOS (Top) Waterford Mott’s Brendan Riley finds his shot during a match. (Middle) Riley takes a post-tournament photo after winning last season’s singles championship. (Top photo courtesy of the Riley family.)