By Pam Shebest
Special for Second Half
KALAMAZOO — Three years ago, 12-year-old Trevor Morgan became the youngest bowler in the Kalamazoo area to throw a sanctioned 300 game.
So far Morgan hasn’t duplicated the feat except in practice, but the sophomore is the top scorer on his Loy Norrix team with a 202 average.
After starting the season with a 1-2 record, the Knights rallied to a second-place finish in the Southwest Michigan High School Bowling Conference’s top division this season, winning their last five matches.
Portage Northern (8-0) won the division.
As teams head into the MHSAA Division 1 Regionals Feb. 26-27 at Royal Scot Golf and Bowl in Grand Ledge, Morgan has two goals: He hopes to return to the MHSAA Finals as an individual, and he would be thrilled if the team also qualified.
“It would be awesome,” he exclaimed. “We have Connor (Thomas) who’s a junior and Bailey (Brandt) who’s a sophomore and didn’t bowl last year.
“Trentin (Hohler) is a newcomer and I’d love to go to states this year as a team. It would be awesome.”
Morgan missed the final cut by four pins last year, but the experience was eye-opening.
“I learned that there’s a lot of other good bowlers out there,” he said. “I’m not the only one.
“I know I can bowl around here, but I got there and bowled against all those kids who are seniors and who have been bowling just as long, if not longer, than I have.”
Morgan started bowling at age 2, but his father would not allow him to use the bumpers.
“He would stand out there, put his finger on second arrow and say ‘Hit my finger, hit my finger,’” he said.
Although he’s bowled in junior leagues and tournaments, Morgan said he loves the excitement of high school bowling.
“In high school, I feel my team supports me,” he said. “We all support each other. In junior leagues, it’s like go up, throw a shot, turn back around, high five.
“On the team, we get loud. You throw a strike, you get loud. You just get pumped up. You’re basically bowling for yourself in junior leagues.”
Experienced leaders at the top
All of that experience led to coach Mike Brandt naming Morgan captain last year as a freshman and this year as well.
“It’s not so much because of how he bowls, but how he acts and helps out,” said Brandt, who has coached the team for almost six years.
He took over midseason when his son, Zach, was a freshman and the team had no coach.
“I’ve been a (United State Bowling Congress) certified coach for about 20 years, so I knew how to coach,” Brandt said. “I just didn’t know that much about high school.
“Zach is (now) an assistant and he’s helped me build the program. All five years, either boys or girls finished first or second in league.”
Brandt said he doesn’t like to cut anyone from the team because, “I have what I call a practice squad. I feel if I cut kids, they have no chance to get better.
“Once I know a match is won, I pull the starters as soon as I can and let the others play to give them the experience.”
He also starts each practice with stretching exercises and drills such as a bowler’s approach.
“I stress fundamentals and spare shooting,” he said. “I’m a very big spare-shooting coach.”
With no seniors and just one junior among the starting five, Brandt knows he has a young team but has seen improvement throughout the season. He also knows the challenges of regional and state competition.
“There are a lot of nerves,” he said. “The east side of the state is huge. It’s very difficult to beat those guys.”
Thomas’ 185 average is second-best on the team while Brandt, the coach’s son, is third at 181 and Hohler, a sophomore, fourth at 151.
Currently, freshman Steve London (139) bowls in the fifth spot.
Others on the team are seniors Haruto Kumasaka and Seth Harding; sophomores Peyton Spinney and Harry Norder and freshman Brandon Worden.
“Trevor probably has the most experience and a willingness to win,” the coach said. “He and Bailey are probably the best at that.
“When they’re up there, even if they’re in a bad mood, they give it their all.”
It’s a team game
Once in high school, the teens had to learn a new form of bowling: Baker games where the first person bowls the first and sixth frames, the second bowls the second and seventh, and so on.
Morgan usually bowls the fifth and 10th frames.
“I like (Bakers),” he said. “I think it’s a challenge because you have to put five guys together who have to collaborate. You have to watch the person in front of you bowling.
“I normally bowl anchor and Bailey’s in front of me, so I can base off what the oil pattern is doing for Bailey and he bases off the guy before him and so on.”
In league competition, bowlers have two regular and two Baker games, but in Team Regionals it’s three regular and six Baker.
“I keep them going, make them bowl more games than they want,” the coach said. “These next two weeks, they’ll bowl more games than they ever had in practices. I’m very much into drills.
“My philosophy is we work in practice so we can have fun on the lanes on Saturdays. You have to have fun because this is a game. If you’re not having fun, there’s no use doing it.”
Thomas, who has bowled on the team all three years and is usually the leadoff bowler, said for the team to qualify for the Finals, “it’s going to take a lot of spares and a lot of people focusing in and actually committing to making it.”
It’s Bailey Brandt’s first year on the team, but having his dad as his coach is nothing new: “He’s been my coach my entire life,” he said.
Hohler is also in his first-year on the team, sparked by some friends from his junior league team.
“They were bowling on the team at Portage Central and Portage Northern,” he said. Unfortunately for him, “We lost to both of them this year.”
Coach Brandt said Hohler has improved a lot.
“We made a lot of changes with him, and he’s stepped up,” Brandt said. And that’s one of the reasons Hohler likes the high school league.
“It’s more organized, and you learn a lot more,” he said. “I started out bowling straight, and now I’m hooking it.”
Thomas also enjoys high school bowling.
“Your teammates can hold you up when you’re not having a good day,” he said. “Even if you don’t take your point, you can help toward the total team score.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Trevor Morgan works through a drill during a recent Loy Norrix practice. (Middle) Coach Mike Brandt, Trevor Morgan, Connor Thomas. (Below) Bailey Brandt rolls during one of the team's practice drills. (Photos by Pam Shebest.)