Gobles’ fledgling bowling program years ahead of schedule after Morgan Brunner’s state title
GOBLES, MI – Sports guarantees go all the way back to Babe Ruth pointing his finger in the stands and then slamming his next spot in the deepest part of midfield for his iconic 1932 World Series call-shot home run.
The 40-meter-high bomb was just one of Ruth’s 714 homers in her career, but has legendary status due to the guarantee that preceded it.
In the small town of Gobles, Van Buren County, it was a similar guarantee that sparked the high school’s first state championship in a decade.
In the second year of its existence, the Gobles bowling program for girls celebrated a state championship on March 27, when Morgan Brunner defeated Ella Wendel of Traverse City Christian for the individual division 4 championship in the second year.
“I was really excited,” said Brunner. “One of my goals for high school was to win states for at least a year, and I didn’t care what year I did it. I just knew that I wanted to do it and became the first person in my family to do it. It felt really good to achieve one of my goals so early in my high school career. “
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Morgan, the daughter of competitive bowlers and industry professionals Scott and Karrie Brunner, picked up the game as soon as she could walk and began participating in tournaments at the age of 8.
In her freshman year as a competitive bowler, Morgan qualified for the Junior Gold Championships, which crown the best in the nation at U-12, U-15, U-17 and U-20.
“With Morgan and her bowling, we’d just sit back and say, ‘She’s just something else,'” Karrie said. “It’s exciting and nerve-wracking and scary at the same time. I mean, you have your little 8 year old who is really not afraid of anything or anyone and who competes against the best bowlers in the country. “
When Morgan was preparing to start high school in Gobles in 2019, the Tigers did not have a bowling team.
The Brunners hoped to change that, but with enrollment dropping from 301 students in 2015 to 233 in 2019, adding a sport would be difficult.
At first, Gobles sporting director Chris Miller was skeptical.
“We had never signed up for bowling and I was like, ‘Well, where are we going to bowl?'” He said.
A school-wide enrollment attracted five boys and five girls – just enough to create two separate teams – with Karrie Brunner and former Portage Central trainer Bill Huey teaching the 10 bowlers.
Then came the guarantee.
“I told the sporting director when we started the bowling team that Morgan will bring home a state championship. It’s just a matter of when,” said Karrie. “We never expected it to be their second year.”
When asked if he had foreseen Morgan keeping her mother’s sophomore promise, Miller said, “Not even around.”
“I only assumed she would get better as a junior and senior, but when she wins in the sophomore year it only shows her mental toughness, let alone the physical strength of having to play 16 games in a day to win the individual Title. “
Brunner was chosen from the beginning of the Division 4 final and finished third after six qualifying rounds with an average score of 182, which put her in the match play field of 16.
In the first three rounds of the game, Brunner won and secured her place in the final with Ella Wendel from Traverse City Christian.
Brunner won the first game, 169-157, but it was their lowest score of the day and fatigue set in.
“I was definitely getting tired on the way to the final because we played 14 games during the day and I was just starting to get a little sore and tired from bowling so much,” she said.
Brunner’s strike-free finish in the 10th frame gave Wendel a chance to capture the state championship in the final frame, but the Christian senior from Traverse City failed to deliver a strike, leaving the second player since Gobles’ first national title in a sport to win Rita Morris 2011 the long jump crown of Division 4.
“It was surreal,” said Karrie. “She had her three biggest fans with her – mom, dad and her grandpa, and the three of us just looked at each other in awe and we just said, ‘She fucking did it.'”
The past year has been tough for all bowlers who lost opportunities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What added to Brunner’s frustration, however, was the struggle to keep up with her friends and competitors when she was on the tracks.
“Over the past year I’ve worked very hard at bowling and participated in various tournaments and other things. I’ve seen my friends win and some of the people I know won and I really, really want to win up to this point and win some of the bigger tournaments, “she said. “I feel like the state championship has given me a little more confidence in my regular tournament season and I hope I can take that into my later tournaments.”
Brunner will be competing in her ninth straight Junior Gold Championship in Indianapolis this summer and a state championship trophy will boost her confidence, but she also hopes this will help bowling in the Gobles community.
“We’ve never had a bowling team and bowling just isn’t that big in our school. I hope that I can win this year, that next year more people want to come out and bowl, and so am I. I’m just happy to say that I brought home a state championship for my school, ”said Brunner.
Miller, now in his 26th year as Gobles’ sports director, said he has seen increased interest in the sport in the weeks since Brunner’s state championship win.
“We had several people in the community who didn’t even know we had bowling teams,” Miller said. “We had a bowling alley here in Gobles for years and it went through different owners and owners and all that and finally, probably 10 years ago, it closed and you didn’t hear that much about bowling and our kids couldn’t just blow up and roll.
“It’s been a tough year, but the good thing that has really done it – not just in our school, but in our community as well – is that people are talking about bowling.”