Alma, Jonesville Add to Trophy Count

March 2, 2018

By Mitchell Boatman
Special for Second Half

MUSKEGON – Alma girls bowling coach Ken Shunk is going out on top. 

The 11-year coach decided before the season that this one would be his last, and his team made the most of it.

The Panthers dominated all day Friday and beat Muskegon Oakridge 1,205-1,072 in the Final to capture the MHSAA Division 3 girls bowling team championship at Northway Lanes in Muskegon.

“I’ve got a really talented team here,” Shunk said. “We had a really good year. It feels good to win another state championship. I’ve got five seniors here, and I’m happy for them.”

Coach Shunk is not leaving bowling entirely; he’s just switching roles.

“My daughter (Kemmie Shunk) graduates this year,” he said. “She’s going on to play at Alma College, and I just want to be able to travel and go to her events. That’s the reason I’m resigning.”

Leading the way for the Panthers were seniors Shunk and Morgan Johnson and juniors Hallie Weaver and Sarah Gadde. That group helped the team bowl its best game of the year, a 1,004 in the qualifying round.

Alma trailed 162-161 after the first Baker game in the title match, but took a 338-305 lead into the regular games. Alma the bowled an 867 in the final portion, compared to Oakridge’s 767.

The Division 3 championship was the second in the last three years for the Panthers. Coming off last weekend's Regional win, Alma posted Friday’s highest qualifying score at 3,273. The Panthers defeated Gladwin in the quarterfinals and came back to down Caro in the semifinals 1,106-1,090.

Oakridge reached the final match for the first time in the school's history and made it there with a sixth-place finish in the qualifying round. The Eagles beat Flat Rock in the quarterfinals and topped reigning champion Birch Run 1,102-1,037 in the semifinals.

The win capped off a great season of hard work, Shunk said.

“This year we did some tougher Division 1 tournaments. I think the tougher competition really helped us out,” he added. The Panthers won several of those tournaments and finished undefeated in their conference as well. The regular-season success had them feeling confident going into the Finals.

“We had a great day at Regionals last week and a great singles event as well,” Shunk said. “Coming into today, we were confident that we had one of the better teams here.”

The members of Alma’s champion team were Kemmie Shunk, Morgan Johnson, Hallie Weaver, Sarah Gadde, Morgan Lindsey, Shauna Brenner and Aaliyah Wilson. Shunk, Johnson, Weaver and Gadde all will compete in Saturday’s Singles Final.

Jonesville’s boys, meanwhile, continued their season-long habit of come-from-behind wins Friday.

The Comets captured their school’s second MHSAA boys bowling title with a 1,318-1,146 win over Corunna in the championship round.

Jonesville trailed after the Baker games, but that was nothing new.

“These kids, they’ve fought so hard all year,” Jonesville coach Matt Molinaro said. “They were down in so many matches, and they just fight back and fight back.

“They proved to themselves that they could do that and not give up. I’m proud of them for that.”

The title, while Jonesville’s second, was the first in Division 3. The Comets won Division 4 in 2014.

Against Corunna, the Comets trailed by just eight pins heading to the regular games. Needing a rally, they turned in their best performance of the day.

Jonesville bowled a 1,001, compared to Corunna’s 821, to run away with the title.

But the biggest comeback came in the semifinals. Jonesville trailed Mount Morris by 54 pins following the Baker games but managed to pull out a 1,147-1,111 win.

“That’s all I could reinforce for them,” Molinaro said of his team’s resiliency. “They did this all year. That’s just a few marks; we don’t have to panic. They buckled down and they continue to excel.”

Jonesville finished fourth in the qualifying round with a score of 3,304. The Comets were just six pins shy of second and 18 better than sixth in a crowded field. Jonesville knocked off fifth-seeded Caro in the quarterfinals.

Corunna finished sixth in qualifying. The Cavaliers upset three seed Hopkins and second-seeded Cheboygan. Corunna and Cheboygan were tied heading to the regular games, when the Cavaliers pulled out their dramatic 17-pin victory.

Despite being a senior-heavy team – six of the seven members will be graduating – most of Jonesville’s squad had little varsity experience before this season.

“The majority of them really haven’t had any varsity experience,” Molinaro said. “We’ve had such good teams, they finally busted into the varsity (this year).”

The regular season wasn’t exactly stellar for Jonesville, but one match stood out as a confidence booster.

“We did beat the defending state champions in Vandercook Lake,” Molinaro said. “For that to happen, that gave the guys a little spark.”

Jonesville’s championship roster consisted of Grant Baker, Austin Creger, Dustin Gutowski, Caleb Hoover, Jacob Maynard, Freeman Do and Fred Yaniga.

Click for full girls results and boys results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Alma’s girls bowling team: Sarah Gadde, Morgan Johnson, Morgan Lindsey, head coach Ken Shunk, Kemmie Shunk, Shauna Brenner, Aaliyah Wilson, Hallie Weaver and assistant coach Raedene Shunk. (Middle) Jonesville’s boys bowling team: Assistant coach Matt Davis, Austin Creger, Dustin Gutowski, Caleb Hoover, Jacob Maynard, Grant Baker, Freeman Do, Fred Yaniga and head coach Matt Molinaro.

Fast-Building Fowlerville Bowling Program Growing Into Striking Success

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

January 26, 2023

HOWELL – The Fowlerville bowling program started with a question.

Mid-MichiganBrent 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.

Brent Wood shows his left-handed, left-footed bowling style. 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.

Fowlerville’s girls and boys teams this season, including head coach Denise Wood, top row far left, and assistants Kevin Mahon and Kelli Wilbur. Challenge accepted.

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.

Fowlerville’s Paige Frazier, top, and Emma Wilbur. 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.)