Bronson, Vandercook Finish Journeys

March 2, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

BATTLE CREEK – The Bronson boys bowling team walked a path to its first MHSAA championship this season that no high school team should ever have to travel.

But the courage shown by the Vikings likely explained a little added loudness to the cheers and a few more of the tears during the final frames of Friday’s Division 4 Team Final at M-66 Bowl.

The Vikings – who along with Vandercook Lake’s girls claimed this season’s championships – made sure the name Tyler Wirtz was included as coach Roger Wisman listed his bowlers during the trophy presentation. Wirtz, a senior, died in a crash Dec. 19.

“We stepped up really big when he was gone. I know it crushed the entire team, but we stayed together,” said Bronson’s Joseph Weigt, the lone senior in the lineup Friday. “This was a good journey and life experience for us. … We stepped up and got the job done.”

Bronson’s boys, who finished only their third season as a high school program, downed St. Charles 1,354-1,283 in the championship match.

Vandercook Lake’s girls, meanwhile, repeated as winners with a 1,052-945 win over Brown City – earning the Jayhawks girls their sixth MHSAA title in the sport.

The Vikings, who entered the postseason top-ranked but finished second at their Regional last week, trailed the No. 2 Bulldogs by 24 pins after the two Baker games. But Bronson started off the regular game portion with 10 straight strikes – two each from every bowler in the lineup – to take away both the lead and momentum.

“The kids come through. Every one of them come through,” Wisman said. “We had a huddle before we started. We tried to be positive. ‘We can do this,’ I said. And they rolled with it.”

Junior Brandon Hyska, last season’s Division 4 singles champion, led the way with a 236 and junior Bryan Foote came in at 235, while junior Kameron Haviland rolled a 213. Weigt, who averaged 161 this season, added a 193 to the effort. Junior Brandon Taylor rounded out the scoring with a 165.

St. Charles was a semifinalist in 2017 but needed to win a roll-off to earn the final quarterfinal spot Friday. Junior Michael Pratt led St. Charles in the regular game with a 255, and senior Alex Dittenber rolled a 200.

It was an impressive run, especially keeping in mind that the Bulldogs posted their second runner-up finish in three years despite graduating three-time singles champion Kyle Tuttle last spring.

Tuttle missed a fourth individual title by falling in a close match to Hyska in last year’s quarterfinals. Hyska went on to dominate the rest of the singles field, but was raring to come back this winter and pick up a team title as well.

“We knew we were down 20, and we knew we had to make a comeback and we had to do it quick, get ahead and stay ahead,” Hyska said. “It gets kinda contagious. Your teammates start striking, and you want to do it too. We’ve done it multiple times this season when we needed it; (we’re) 18-0, and it showed.”

Vandercook Lake’s girls dominated their qualifying block, finishing first by 118 pins. In the Final, the Jayhawks – ranked No. 10 entering the postseason – led No. 2 Brown City by 60 after the Bakers before adding 47 to the margin during the regular games.

Juniors MacKenzie Johnson and Preslee Stahl led in the regular games with scores of 168 and 166, respectively. Senior Allana Hatfield rolled a 152, freshman Arielle Oakley a 141 and sophomore Evie Hatfield a 113.

The Jayhawks lost three league matches early this season by a combined 30 pins. But coach Todd Reichard said a team bonding dinner six weeks ago charged his lineup, which went on to avenge all three defeats and claim the conference title.

“We had to come a pretty far way,” Johnson said. “In the beginning of the season, you could tell we needed a little work to ever become state champs again. But I think us bonding as a team and coming together more really happened throughout the last part of the season, and that’s what helped us. We had our whole team today as one.”

Brown City earned its highest Finals finish in the sport. Senior Jordyn Burke rolled a 161, followed by junior Faith Gleasure at 152, junior Courtney Wheeler at 147, freshman Danyale McIvor at 117 and junior Madison Anglebrant at 116.

Vandercook Lake will have three individuals competing in Saturday’s singles competition, and will graduate only one contributor this spring – which no doubt will make the Jayhawks a team to chase again in 2018-19, as few others have been so consistently successful at this level.

“I think it’s the attitude, I think it’s the personality we have, and I think it’s our coaches too,” Johnson said. “I think it’s the personality our coaches have, that they always see the best in their players. Winning isn’t necessarily the goal for them, but it’s a nice treat.”

Click for boys results and girls results.

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.)