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By Seth Kinker, skinker@thesuntimesnews.com

Manchester senior Eli Lobbestael was in eighth grade going into his freshman year at Manchester High School when he learned there wasn’t a bowling team at the high school level.

Lobbestael wanted to bowl at the high school level so he did his research and some recruiting. First, he asked Becky Sheats, a manager at the Maplewood Lanes in Saline, MI. where he bowled and her husband, Tracey, if they would be coaches. Then, they all went in front of the Manchester school board and made the official request.

Tracey and Becky had been bowlers for many years, participating in different leagues. Becky is also the youth director at Maplewood Lanes for kids’ leagues.

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“We learned a lot the first couple of years,” said Tracey on the Sheats foray into coaching, “The other coaches in the league were super helpful. Todd Reichard, Vandercook’s coach, was great. It was a learning experience. The first year I couldn’t believe how fun it was. I’d seen the Saline team bowl out of Maplewood because that’s their home lanes and it was really fun to get our own team going. We were really young (at first), only had two kids that had ever bowled before.”

In its first year in 2016 the team had nine members. After receiving approval from the board for the team, Lobbestael went into the lunch room at school and asked every person there if they wanted to bowl.

“I’m very happy,” said Lobbestael now in his senior year at Manchester and a four-year member of the team. “I’m ecstatic the program is still up and running and I hope someone will come after me and help people get into it, so the bowling team keeps on going.”

After the first year Manchester was able to field three teams, Varsity boys, Varsity girls, and JV boys.

Each year they’ve progressed in the Cascades conference, which has many strong teams. From a couple of wins the first couple of seasons, to now competing, Tracey told The Sun Time the team has been trending upward every year.

“This year the way the kids started, we had goals of winning it,” said Tracey. “Our ultimate goal this year is to win regionals and they’re good enough to do it.”

In addition to having freshman Bobby Steman bowl the first perfect game in program history this year, they also knocked off Vandercook Lake, the top team in the conference, and another first for the program.

This year, Jim Branham, who has a son on the team and began helping coach the boys last year, has taken on a bigger role coaching the boys with Tracey getting a new job with more hours.

“The kids take to him,” said Tracey. “Last year he started helping and one of the boys said, ‘is it ok if Jim coaches the rest of the year?’”

With it being a club sport, the team does fundraisers such as bottle drives and 50/50 raffles at local bowling leagues to help for jerseys and tournament entry fees.

“I would tell them, its great fun,” said Tracey about what he wants people to know about coming out for the team. “Bowling is a life time sport. If you play football in high school, you’ll probably not play after that, bowling’s something you can do for the rest of your life, if you want to. Bowling they compare it to golf, it’s a problem-solving sport, with different oil patterns a ton of different bowling balls technology wise, they have to work with different scenarios.”

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