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BOWLING: 'Bowling Dad' morphs into Truman's coach (PHOTO)

Members of the Truman High School varsity boys bowling team include Coach Mike Leleniewski, captain Rhys Hamilton, Patrick Bomia, Jeffery Sherry, Kenneth Sorke, Darius Denard, Austin Hunter and Coach Donnie Phipps. Not pictured is bowler Mike (Bubba )Turner and coaches Jamie Sarosta and Mike Turner.

Members of the Truman High School varsity girls bowling team include Coach Mike Leleniewski (left), Brittany Conyer, Kelsey Caufield, captain Haley Leleniewski, Destini Murphy, Jaida Govantes and Coach Donnie Phipps

A year ago, Donnie Phipps was “the ultimate bowling dad.”

His daughter Kelsey Caufield was a member of the varsity bowling team at Truman High School in Taylor. Phipps routinely watched the team bowl, drove Kelsey and her teammates from Skore Lanes and other bowling centers, fed them and drove them to their house.

Eventually, the same girls decided it would be a good idea if “the ultimate bowling dad became the bowling coach,” so Phipps became responsible for the girls team. In time, he also became coach of the boys team.

While Phipps served as head coach and administrator of both teams, he brought along Mike Leleniewski and Jamie Starosta to serve as “technical coaches” and Mike Pappas to serve as an assistant coach.

All of the assistant coaches are “avid, experienced bowlers,” Phipps said. “Are they good for the kids? Absolutely. They have been tremendous in the growth of several of our kids thus far this year.”

Coaching became a top priority because experience also was an issue. Four top bowlers graduated from last season’s boys team, so Phipps had to rebuild the team around the only returner, senior captain Rhys Hamilton.

Hamilton is averaging 179 heading into this weekend’s Division 2 regional tournament at Truman’s home bowling center, Skore Lanes. The Cougars and other teams will compete on Friday with the top three finishers advancing to the state finals February 28. The boys and girls will compete in singles on Saturday with the top 10 individuals advancing to the state finals on March 1.

A second senior, Austin Hunter, may have the best shot making the top 10 at the singles regional. He finished Downriver League play with a 193 average and picked up 11.5 points in head-to-head matches.

Rounding out the team are sophomore Jeffrey Sherry (178 average, 11 points) and freshmen Darius Denard (160) and Mike Turner (151).

On the Truman girls’ team, all five girls from last season’s team returned, but there were only five girls total on the team, meaning they all had to show up for the Cougars to have a complete starting lineup and a chance to win.

And all five are juniors: captain Haley Lelniewski (157 average), Caufield (124), Destini Murphy (124), Brittany Conyer (120) and Jaida Govantes (86). Phipps called them a “close-knit group.”

Phipps said plenty of the bowlers have shown improvement throughout the season with Govantes and Caufield making the biggest climb on the girls team and Denard showing the most promise on the boys team.

This season, the Truman girls finished 2-4 in the Downriver League and 3-8 overall. The boys were 3-3 in the league and 5-6 overall.

“It’s always exciting when the team wins,” Phipps said. “It’s about having fun, of course, but you also have to incorporate following the rules and regulations.”

A bright spot in the season was bowling at Skore Lanes and the working relationship between teams and Sara Sligay, who is assistant manager and event planner, and her staff.

“Sara is just tremendous,” Phipps said. “Her overall attitude and demeanor – she’s always upbeat. The whole staff is great.”

Looking ahead, the head coach said he hopes to get some depth on the girls team and add more players to the boys team, especially with two more seniors set to graduate.

“I’m not as cool of a coach as I was a dad,” Phipps said, laughing. “It’s been a lot of fun. I’m actually looking forward to doing it next year and will probably continue doing it for years to come. We’ll see how it goes.”



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Last Updated: 2/21/2014 1:19:47 PM EST

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