Youngest Bona Brother Bringing Successful Conclusion to Family QB Legacy
By Tim Robinson
Special for MHSAA.com
October 15, 2021
PINCKNEY — Senior Jimmy Bona is the third of four boys in his family to play quarterback at Pinckney. As the youngest, with twin brothers 10 years older, his introduction to football came in the front yard of the Bona home.
And it was what you’d expect.
“It started in our front yard,” said Dominic, the first of the three sons, who later became a standout quarterback at Albion College. “Joe was 8 and Jimmy was 6. We used to beat up on them.”
“They did not go easy on us,” said Joe, who played quarterback his senior season in 2019 and now is a finance major at Michigan State. “They made us way more tough, mentally and physically. They made us who we are today.”
These days, Dominic, a starter in 2011-12, and Joe both help mentor their brother – Dominic from his home in the Denver area and Joe from East Lansing.
“I watch a little film here and there,” Dominic says. “I give them tips on coverages and footwork. I started with Joe and now going to Jimmy. He’s doing a great job.”
Jimmy Bona has completed 58 percent of his passes for 674 yards and 11 touchdowns versus only two interceptions, as the Pirates (5-2) finished play in the Southeastern Conference White in second place with a 4-1 record.
He’s the youngest of Tony and Jackie Bona’s six children total, which includes two sets of fraternal twins. Dominic and Mitch, a former Pinckney hockey player who now is an Army Ranger; sister Allison; and Joe and Rachel, who is a member of the Grand Valley State University dance team.
It’s a close-knit family, and the three older kids were frequently each assigned one of their siblings to keep an eye on when on expeditions outside the home.
It was definitely a football family, for the most part, according to Jackie.
“Jimmy was born in September,” she said. “I was at Dom’s game with Jimmy, a week later. I can’t tell you how much we’ve enjoyed the process. We’ve been doing this for so long. We moved here when Mitch and Dom were in the second grade. I’ve had a kid in football for 20 years.”
The older brothers always included their younger siblings in whatever games were being played in the front yard.
“It was a rough house to live up to,” Jimmy said. “They taught me a bunch of stuff, like life lessons. My parents weren’t in the house much because they were working, so (my brothers) kind of raised me and made me who I am today. I can’t thank them enough.”
The front yard football field used the Bonas’ driveway and a neighbor’s as end zones.
“You didn’t want to get tackled in the end zone,” Dominic said, laughing. “You might hit a mailbox, too.”
The kids played indoors when the weather was bad, with results you also might expect.
“We only recently got furniture in the front room,” Jackie said. “We finally painted and put furniture in a few years ago.”
These days, the Bonas are still a close family, keeping in touch with a family chat while Dominic and Joe do what they can to help Jimmy during his senior season.
“I text him every week,” Dominic says. “At the beginning of the week, I remind him to get his mind right, and on Friday morning I tell him to get into the zone, try and get his head right.”
The family gets together whenever it can, including last weekend, when Dominic and Mitch returned for Pinckney’s homecoming win over Ypsilanti Community. Joe, meanwhile, has attended all but one of the Pirates’ games this season.
Jimmy, in at least one measure, is no longer the little brother.
“When I got taller than my older brothers, I got way happier,” Jimmy said, grinning.
There’s a little sense of the bittersweet with the Bonas as Jimmy completes his high school journey.
“Some of these kids have been playing together since the first grade,” Jackie said. “It’s been a lovely experience I’ll never forget. It’s been amazing. But it’s never been this quiet at our house, ever. I can’t believe it’s almost over. When they say the days are long and the years are short, it’s true.”
Pinckney coach Rod Beaton was an assistant when Dominic played for the Pirates a decade ago, and coached both Joe and Jimmy Bona on the Pirates varsity.
“Unfortunately, there are no more Bonas in the pipeline,” Beaton said, laughing. “But I will tell you, they’ve set a precedent.”
PHOTOS (Top) Pinckney quarterback Jimmy Bona works to pull away from a defender during his team’s Week 2 game against Harper Woods. (Middle) Jimmy, middle, gets plenty of support from older brothers Dominic (left) and Joe. (Top photo by Quintin Love Jr.; middle photo courtesy of Jackie Bona.)
For Their Teams, For Each Other, St. Mary Seniors Team Up 2 More Times
By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com
March 17, 2023
Shawn Bramer and Dylan Barnowski, as middle schoolers, attended the MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals every year.
Last year, they nearly played in the Division 3 title game – falling in a Semifinal but almost making a dream come true for the then-juniors and their Lake Leelanau St. Mary coach, Matt Barnowski, also Dylan’s father.
That dream began for some when the boys were coached by Matt as third graders, and they made serious strides last season. Before last winter, the last time the Eagles had won a Regional championship was 1950 – and no St. Mary boys basketball team had reached the Semifinals. Bramer and Dylan Barnowski – along with current seniors Jack Glynn, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar – had high hopes of making more history this winter.
The dream ended Wednesday night with a Regional Final loss to Frankfort, which St. Mary had defeated 54-41 during the regular season. This time, the Eagles were faced with a large number of K-12 students succumbing to illness – with all five of its starters at least somewhat sick – as nearly a third of the school’s tiny enrollment was out of school the day after the loss to the Panthers.
But you won’t hear any of the players or coaches making excuses. They give all the credit to Frankfort, and they’re ready to move on. And many in the LSM family know reaching the Regional Finals this season and Breslin Center in 2022 had absolutely no probability had Bramer and Barnowski not made an iron-clad agreement last summer.
The two friends vowed to help each other despite their personal, opposing challenges.
Barnowski and Bramer, through LSM’s cooperative agreement with Suttons Bay, went 3-for-3 playing in 8-Player Division 1 Football Finals during their first three years of high school. But through last summer Barnowski, who quarterbacked the Norseman, had no interest in football.
Bramer, meanwhile, had been nursing a quad tendon injury since his sophomore football season and battling two bad knees but was thinking he could suffer though football and sit out the basketball season to recover. The all-state running back experienced training difficulties and even had his strength training severely hampered.
Football was king for Bramer, and he also loved basketball too. Basketball is number one to Barnowski. The longtime friends decided cut a deal to help each other — and their teammates — out.
“I was kind of on the edge,” said Bramer, who plays with braces on both knees. “After talking to each other, we both ended up just playing.
“I really shouldn’t be playing sports, but I couldn’t miss out playing with my friends,” he continued. “We just figured it was our last season so we might as well just do it.”
Barnowski had been considering ending his football days immediately after the Norse fell short in their third-straight trip to the Finals, at Superior Dome in Marquette in Fall 2021. That loss was at the hands of Adrian Lenawee Christian 31-20.
The Norseman graduated most of their offensive and defense lines last spring and expected to be small in numbers. Until this fall, they had lost only one regular-season game on their way to three straight title game appearances. This year they finished 3-5.
The big linemen losses — Barnowski’s protection — was forcing him to weigh his injury risk against having a senior basketball season.
“We did it for each other,” Barnowski said. “I talked with Shawn, and we knew we had a big community behind us and it would be hard for them if we just quit.
“I knew we weren’t going to have the same powerhouse team we had,” he continued. “We weren’t very good this year, but we still had a blast.”
This week’s loss put an end to the possible Breslin championship finish, but it left the friends happy with the decision to play both sports. The Eagles finished 20-4.
Barnowski led St. Mary in scoring. He averaged better than 20 points a game with more than seven rebounds and five assists. Bramer averaged just under 15 points per game, and almost 10 rebounds.
The two big men each scored 11 in the season-ending loss. Thompson scored 14. This year’s senior-dominated team likely will be remembered for its basketball success for some time. Barnowski, Bramer and Glynn experienced only one loss in District play over their four seasons.
“It’s a really special groups of kids,” Coach Barnowski said. “These kids kind of transformed St. Mary’s basketball.
“They’ve really built the program,” he continued. “It’s been a roller coaster ride.”
Bramer and Dylan Barnowski also played baseball in the past for the Eagles, but that likely won’t happen this spring. Barnowski plans to golf, and Bramer expects to sit the spring season out and heal.
“We’ll never forget these last four years of varsity we played,” Barnowski said. “I‘ve decided to go a more relaxing route, and I’m going for some golf.”
With their Breslin dream over, the friends are ready to enjoy the St. Mary’s community support and move on. They’re bummed so many were sick in the end but won’t use it as an excuse.
“Hats off to Frankfort,” Barnowski said. “They did an incredible job of shutting us down.”
“They just played their game better than we did,” he said. “They took the lead at the end of the third quarter, and it was a battle from there.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS (Top) St. Mary’s seniors Dylan Barnowski, left, and Shawn Bramer hold up the team’s District championship trophy last week. (2) Eagles coach Matt Barnowski, center, and assistant Sander Scott coach up their team during last week’s Regional Semifinal win over Mesick. (3) Dylan Barnowski and Bramer also teamed up during successful football careers. (4) St. Mary’s seniors, from left: Shawn Bramer, Jack Glynn, Dylan Barnowski, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar. (Sideline photo by Tom Spencer; player photos by Emmerson Lamb Photography.)