GRAND RAPIDS – Zeke Heerema had come close to perfection so many times before.
The Grand Rapids Christian senior bowler wasn’t going to let another opportunity slip away.
Heerema rolled his first 300 game Saturday during the Grand Rapids Christian Invitational at Park Center Lanes.
“I had gotten really close a lot of times,” Heerema said. “So I was really excited when it happened. I’ve been trying to do this for a while now, and I’ve gotten so close. I was just ecstatic, and honestly, it was almost a sigh of relief finally doing it.”
Heerema’s close calls included a 279 “countless times,” and at last year’s MHSAA Division 2 Final he recorded a 289 en route to winning the singles title over Tecumseh’s Owen Williams by a narrow margin, 388-382.
As he had done so many times before, Heerema found his rhythm early Saturday in the quest for 300 and began racking up strikes.
He avoided the slip-ups that had plagued him in earlier attempts.’
“I obviously realized after the fourth or fifth frame that it’s starting, and it happens all the time,” Heerema said. “I kind of thought at some point I would mess up because I always do. I always get really close and then mess up late.”
This time, however, there would be no miscues.
And he wasn’t doing it alone. He had his teammates and a crowded bowling center anxiously watching every shot as he got deeper into the game.
“The pressure started building a lot, and whenever I would throw a shot, the whole place would be silent,” Heerema said. “I honestly didn’t think I would get it until the 11th shot. And then I struck there, and thought I just have to get one more. I was pretty confident in the last one.”
Ironically, Heerema's last ball was the one he felt the least amount of anxiety throwing.
“Honestly, I think I felt the least pressure on the last shot for some reason,” he said. “I felt really nervous the last part of the game and then it got to the last shot, and I don’t know, I kind of knew I was going to make it.”
Grand Rapids Christian coach Dan Vander Ploeg said it was a “joy” to witness his team captain roll his first 300 game.
“Zeke is a dedicated and loyal person with a great work ethic,” Vander Ploeg said. “He has an inner drive and a competitive thirst which pushes him towards success.”
Heerema, whose previous best was 10 consecutive strikes in a game, was overwhelmed by the support.
“I'm glad I did it with my family there as opposed to being at practice, and my brother, Levi, once had a 300 in practice,” Heerema said. “I think it was pretty sweet to have my parents there and some of my friends.”
Heerema entered this season with heightened expectations after last year’s Finals title run, but he’s taking it in stride.
“I feel like there is a little bit of added pressure, but honestly I try not to really think about that,” he said. “I’m just going out there and bowling every day, trying to win conference and Regionals, and then hopefully repeat.”
Heerema is the leader of a youthful Eagles squad.
“We have some talent and some young kids who have promise,” Heerema said. “I’m trying to work with them every day in practice to try and improve them and improve our team and hopefully make a run at it this year and in years to come.”
Heerema attributes his success to a consistent routine.
“I try to do the same thing before every shot,” he said. “When I’m grabbing my ball or setting my feet up, and then I've worked a lot on trying to get my mechanics to be consistent. That’s probably the biggest part, keep your mechanics the same on every throw and that’s what's going to lead to consistency.”
All four Heerema brothers have competed in the sport. The oldest, Nolan, bowled as a senior in high school, while Elijah and Levi both bowl collegiately at Cornerstone University.
“My brother Elijah taught me how to throw in eighth grade, and that’s when I started to take it seriously and joined the team,” Zeke Heerema said.
Grand Rapids Christian athletic director Jason Heerema took pride in watching his youngest accomplish a feat that was long overdue.
“As a dad, I have watched him bowl many times and nearly get 300,” he said. “So I always enjoy it, and I’m hopeful, but I don’t get too high or too low, which is likely part of being an athletic director.
“I am very proud of him in these days of specialization to be able to play at a high level in three sports. He gives great effort in whatever he does, and I’m grateful for that.”
In addition to bowling, Zeke Heerema was a starting wide receiver and long snapper for the football team. He also was the starting center fielder for the baseball team, which won the Division 2 championship in the spring.
Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five 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 and video courtesy of the Heerema family.)
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.)