By Sarah Jaeger
Special to Second Half
WATERFORD – What a difference a year makes.
After the 2013 Division 2 Singles Finals, Alex Ouellette from Bay City John Glenn left Century Lanes after coming in second place, vowing to return and win it all.
Fast forward to Saturday, and Ouellette is the 2014 boys champion.
"I knew if I stayed slow and made good shots, I could beat anyone and that's all I had to do," Ouellette said.
The senior cruised through the morning block, even shooting a 300 in the fourth game, and qualified first with a score of 1,463.
"I kind of didn't realize I had the front 8 because I was focused on being consistent and making good shots," Ouellette said. "Then it just came down to the 10th frame, and it was just three more strikes."
"He never really struggled throughout the day," Bay City John Glenn coach Craig Block said. "After those first couple matches when we got up there and shot the 300, I'm sure he felt on top of the world because I did."
In the first round of match play, Ouellette edged junior Anthony Kelley of Flint Kearsley by just five pins. But it was smooth sailing as Ouellette then went on to beat sophomore Chad Stephen of Kearsley in the Quarterfinal and junior Cody Wilkins in the Semifinal.
However, Warren Fitzgerald senior Alec Nunn was waiting for him in the Final to settle a score from 2013.
"He beat me out last year, and I wanted to get another chance at him again," said Nunn of his loss to Ouellette in the previous year's Round of 16. "Runner-up doesn't feel too bad, but I wanted another shot at him."
While each bowler has his unique style and form, Nunn has an uncommon approach, throwing right-handed and sliding on his right foot.
"I asked him when he first started, ‘Do you want to change?’" Warren Fitzgerald coach Rick Schultz said. "He said no, so we just worked with what he had and everything has worked out fine for Alec."
Ouellette got out to an early lead with a 248 to Nunn's 177 in the first game. Even though the second game margin was only two pins, Ouellette had too big of a lead and won his school's second singles title with a match score of 479-410.
While both boys finalists were looking for redemptions on the lanes this year, they were not the only ones.
Tecumseh senior Lauren McKowen missed making it into last year's Finals by one pin and had to watch as teammate Jordan Richard won her second straight singles championship.
But instead of setting her sites on the top prize like Ouellette, McKowen decided to take it one step at a time.
"I just wanted to take it day by day, senior year try and make it your best and that's what happened,” McKowen said.
She placed fourth in the Saturday morning qualifying block and proceeded to beat senior Alysha Sobeck of Gaylord and senior Katelynn Maxwell of Flint Kearsley in the bracket.
McKowen had to beat Richard in the semi to get in the Final. After the first of two games, only two pins separated the teammates. But in the end, McKowen was able to pull out the win 481-431.
"I am the one coach that's not shy about saying I hate singles, and it's for that reason," said Ken Richard, one of Tecumseh's coaches and Jordan's father. "It's tougher for me than most coaches because one was my daughter. But you know the girls have grown up together inside a bowling alley. This wasn't their first head-to-head match, and Lauren came out on top."
With McKowen hoping to become the fourth individual singles champion for the girls in school history, she still had to face Samantha Knight, a senior from Richland Gull Lake, a team in only its fourth year having a bowling program.
"I never really thought when I started my freshman year with our small teams that four years later I'd be here," Knight said.
Knight qualified in the 11th position from the morning but wasn't going to let one bad game get her down.
"She bowled a 133, which just plummeted her scores down," said her coach and mother, Hilary Knight. "But she found her ball, found her line and just kept on going. I know that can really throw you one way or the other, but she managed to rebound."
"Fighting in a lower seed is kind of fun," Samantha Knight added. "You're kind of an underdog."
The "underdog" took the edge in the first game and won 177-174. However, McKowen came back with a 214 in the second to Knight’s 209 to win the match by three pins.
"I still can't believe," McKowen said after the match. "I just can't believe it's true right now.”
PHOTOS: The MHSAA Division 2 Finals boys and girls medalists.
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.)