GENE PHELPS: East Union's thinking back-to-back bowling titles

By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal

The Mississippi High School Activities Association’s record book shows that East Union has won two state championships in boys bowling.
Urchins coach Brian Browning says they’ve won three. He’s got the ring to prove it.
Bowling was in its last season as a pilot sport in 2007 and a state invitational featuring the state’s top teams was held. East Union won all its matches in the tournament, including the championship match against Madison St. Joseph.
“We beat everybody we played,” Browning said. “My kids got a ring. We say we won the state championship.”
So, unofficially, East Union bowls today at Tupelo’s Rebelanes in the North Mississippi Class I regional with the goal of qualifying for a shot at its fourth state title in five years. The Urchins won state in 2008 and last year, along with the invitational victory in 2007.
Loaded lineup
East Union has three seniors – all four-year starters – who are gunning for a third state title.
David Hannaford, John Michael Pannell and Zach Carter are joined in their lineup by sophomores Dustin Pratt and Josh Steeler. The Urchins have a 5-1-3 record, which includes a 1-1-1 mark against defending Class II state champion Tupelo.
“You get to be the best by bowling the best,” Browning said. “Bowling Tupelo gives us a good gauge. If we’re competitive against Tupelo, we should be able to handle ourselves against teams in our classification.”
Hannaford’s 186 average is tops on the team. Carter is second with a 174 while Pannell is third at 164. Carter has the season’s high game with a 268.
“All three of them work hard and continue to work hard,” Browning said. “They get frustrated. They want to be perfect. That’s the sign of a competitive athlete, but it can also cause them to lose focus.”
Hannaford says Browning constantly reminds them to remain focused.
“Coach wants us to realize that you can have fun and be serious at the same time,” Hannaford said. “We’re a team; we’re all friends. When you’re having fun, things go together.”
Hannaford, Pannell and Carter were young pups on the 2008 title team, one that started the season with an 0-9 record.
“They came back after the Christmas break and the lights came on,” Browning said. “They qualified for state and darn it if they didn’t win it.”
One of their teammates, Buddy Easterling, died unexpectedly a month after the season. Browning points to it as the main reason the squad didn’t defend its title in 2009.
Last year, the Urchins battled back from adversity once again, this time in the Baker style state championship match against East Webster. Trailing 3-1 in a best-of-seven match, East Union rallied to win 4-3 when senior Steven Dawe nailed three consecutive strikes in the final frame.
You’re the coach
Browning, who teaches history, government and economics to juniors and seniors, hadn’t picked up a bowling ball in 25 years when he was tabbed to coach the team six years ago.
“I guess you could say I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said, then laughed.
Browning was standing in the hallway between classes one day when the principal came up and told him he had been selected to coach bowling.
“He told me, ‘Matt Price knows everything to do. All you have to do is show up,”’ Browning recalled.
Price was one of the state’s top junior bowlers and remains the standard Browning compares his bowlers to.
This year’s Class I state tournament will be held Feb. 25 at Paradise Lanes in Jackson.
“I hope we’re peaking,” said Browning, who likes his team’s chances of winning a third state championship. … correction, a fourth state championship.
Contact Gene Phelps at 678-1593
or gene.phelps@journalinc.com.