Mike Franks’ first bowling ball came out of the trash. It was rescued by his grandfather and helped to jump start Franks’ career.
“One of his neighbors down the street was throwing out some old stuff and he saw a bowling ball,” Franks said. “He picked that up and Chip Slocum (of Slocum’s Bowling Center) drilled it out and fitted it to me. He was the one that helped me learn how to throw the ball and got me going with it.”
Franks was a sixth grader just starting to get into bowling. He bowled after middle school for fun in a league, an innocent start to a sport that has since taken off.
“The first year I wasn’t so sure on it,” Franks said. “I definitely enjoyed it and that’s what got me into wanting to do it more. It’s fun. That’s why I continued to go with it.”
Franks was a freshman last year when he cracked into the Ewing High School boys bowling team lineup. He felt the pressure of bowling for the unbeaten Blue Devils.
“All through bowling season, that’s all I was focusing on,” Franks said. “Every night I was going out and bowling, even when we didn’t have practice. This year it’s not as stressful because I’m used to going to the different bowling lanes and being able to adjust to them.”
Now a sophomore, he’s one of the most experienced bowlers in Ewing’s lineup. The team was 3-1 as of Dec. 17, suffering its first loss, 3-1, to Cinnaminson on Dec. 14.
“I didn’t think we’d do as good this year because we lost a lot of good bowlers (to graduation),” Franks said. “Everyone has been working together and helping each other to improve. There’s been a lot of positive energy and we’re all happy to be there and bowling at our best.”
The boys varsity also includes Nick Canavera, Kyle DeLutis, Jimmy McSweeney and Aiden Reid. JV members are Philip Bassett, Morris Glover, Alex Zuchowski, Joe Lenarski, Jared Testa, Jayson Fleurant and Jacob Elam.
Ewing head coach Dave Angebranndt said he lost three of the five varsity bowlers from last year, “I have a really deep freshman and sophomore class. I luckily had about seven freshmen come in this year, four or five of which aren’t bad bowlers as freshman, they’re just young. They’re just not throwing a heavy ball, but their form isn’t bad.”
The Ewing girls also had some turnover and only has eight bowlers. The girls varsity has Ruka Ahmed, Amelia Baffuto, Jasani Burgess, Sierra Reid, Olivia Ross, Louisa Scozzaro and Jazmyn Willis. The Blue Devils have been bowling without Willis, one of their best bowlers, due to injury. The team is 3-1, suffering a 3-1 loss to Pemberton on Dec. 10.
“Ruka, she’s a senior and she’s been bowling two years,” Angebranndt said. “She stepped up the first two matches and has been bowling decent. She’ll have to step up the next month or two, until Jazmyn comes back.
“Sierra Reed, a freshman, has come in and almost filled in where Jazmyn left off. I’m in a pretty decent position when it comes to ages. I’ll have a good group of guys and girls for the next four years that could do surprising things around the area.”
‘They look up to him [Franks] even though he’s only a sophomore. He’s been a role model for a number of kids.’
Franks is a big part of the Ewing boys’ present and future. Only he and McSweeney, a senior, have significant varsity experience.
Angebranndt has seen a lot of development in Franks—he’s come back a better bowler than a year ago, and it’s shown in his early matches.
“He was good last year,” Angebranndt said. “He worked really hard to get where he was. He’s worked even harder this offseason to get better. He’s averaging 228 right now in two matches.”
Angebranndt credits the improvement to Franks dedication to developing his game. He didn’t rest on his achievements as a freshman and has returned with evidence of his work.
“Consistency. Repetitiveness,” Angebranndt noted. “That’s what bowling is all about, that’s what sports is all about. It’s staying consistent. His mindset is in a better place. He’s not as cautious, he’s not as tentative. He’s matured a lot within a year. I think he understands his potential. He wants to be one of the best bowlers in the area. I think if he keeps working at it, he’ll be one of the best bowlers in the county and league we’re in.”
Franks made progress since last year. His practice time focused on making himself more consistent.
“Last year I would go up there and make a good shot, and I’d go up again and try to do it and sometimes it’d work and sometimes it wouldn’t. In the offseason, I tried to work on hitting the same mark over and over again and trying to do everything the same.
“What’s better is my timing is a lot better, my steps and my approach are all smoother, my ball release has gotten better and I’ve gotten more consistent with hitting my mark.”
Franks has a work ethic that extends to anything he tries. Last year, following bowling season, he gave lacrosse a try at the urging of a friend.
“It was a spur of the moment type thing but I said I’d try out,” Franks said. “I went down to the coach and asked him and I joined so late that I wasn’t cleared for the very first game of the season. It was my first time ever playing. The first practice was horrible. I didn’t know how to throw or do anything. I worked hard in that and also got my varsity letter in that.”
Franks has seen steady developments in his bowling since he took up the game. He credits Slocum with helping him to get started and fostering his love of the game, and Angebranndt for adding motivation throughout his young high school career. Just joining the Ewing team played a key role.
“I started off in JV and I would fill in for varsity because there was only a few pins difference in our averages,” Franks said.
His teammates treated him the same as any of the senior bowlers. They were encouraging throughout his first season, which added to his uplifting experience.
“I was happy that I found something that I could do and I was pretty good at, and I was also happy with the way everyone was,” Franks said. “I wasn’t the best, and when I’d miss, everyone on the team would be like, ‘Shake it off, you’re going to do better on the next one.’ Everything was positive. I came into it thinking, I’m going to mess up and get laughed at, but everyone worked together.”
Now Franks is trying to make sure the same happens for his less experienced team members this year. The fast start for the team has been promising.
“We all have each other’s back,” he said. “If I go up and make a bad shot, they’re all watching and saying what I should do to fix it or make that shot a little better. Jimmy McSweeney is helping out a lot with that. He’s the senior on the team.”
Franks is a bigger help to the team than he admits. He is an important part who can connect with sophomore classmates and freshmen.
“He definitely comes off as a big brother kind of person,” Angebranndt said. “They look up to him even though he’s only a sophomore. He’s been a role model for a number of kids. He’s been a member of the junior leagues together with them and they’ve grown up together. They look at him as a mature senior, but he’s only a sophomore. He’ll take some of these kids under his wing and help them.”
By doing so Franks believes that he can help Ewing continue to be among the best teams in the area, one that will only improve as it gains experience this year and beyond.
“I’m already happy with how good of a start we’re having. The main goal is I want to go positive with the scores, which I think we’ll do with no problem,” Franks said.