CCHS Boys Bowling Team Captures School’s First State Team Title
By Andy Collier
Sports Editor, The Bolivar Bullet
The Cleveland Central High School Wolves have had to battle tooth and nail for everything they’ve earned during the bowling season.
On Friday (Feb. 4), their hard work paid off in the best way possible as they won the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class II State Boys Bowling Championship at Fannin Lanes in Brandon.
The Wolves defeated the Neshoba Central High School Rockets in the Baker Series to win the state tournament.
To get to the Baker Series, the Wolves had to finish in the top two in the tournament standings. The Wolves entered the third and final game of the tournament in sixth place. Eighth grader Curtis VanDaley bowled a 231 and eighth grader David Wardlow rolled a 222 in the third game to help the Wolves finish with a score of 893 to put them in second place with an overall score of 2,557 to finish behind Neshoba Central (2,596) in the tournament standings to set up the Baker Series.
The Wolves continued their hot streak in the Baker Series by winning all three games to capture their first state championship in program history. The Wolves also won the first team state championship in school history. CCHS was formed in 2017 from the merger of Cleveland High School and East Side High School.
“It’s special for these kids,” said CCHS Head Bowling Coach Wade McLemore. “They’re going to be the first ones to have won a team state championship in the history of Cleveland Central and that’s really big. As far as being remembered and leaving a legacy, these guys at the beginning of the year set a goal to win a state championship. There were times we looked at it and went, ‘I don’t know. It’s going to be tough.’ I’m extremely proud for the kids that they were able to achieve that goal. I didn’t know how realistic that was at the beginning of the year. Things had to go our way, but it’s all about what you can do now. It’s special for these guys to cement their names in school history.”
The Wolves had their ups and downs during the year heading into the state tournament. CCHS posted an overall record of 4-4 in head-to-head competition. The Wolves took fourth in the Madison Central Invitational on Dec. 10. In that tournament, CCHS finished behind Lafayette, Neshoba Central and Kossuth. In the Class II North Region Tournament on Jan. 26 at Premier Lanes in Oxford, the Wolves finished third behind Lafayette and Corinth and had to enter the state tournament as a wild card.
McLemore, who is in his fifth year at CCHS, knew the odds would be against his team winning the championship.
“Making the state tournament as a wild card team, a lot of people don’t give you a shot in the first place,” said McLemore. “What’s really a testament to our kids is the fact that we made the state championship and won the state championship without having a single kid make the all-state team. That speaks volumes about this team being able to bowl together. The boys kind of feed off of each other. There were times where things kind of looked tough.”
In the state tournament, the Wolves rolled a 907 series which had them in striking distance in third place. CCHS showed a lot of consistency as VanDaley bowled a 192, senior Chris Love bowled a 186, Wardlow rolled a 181, junior Jerrian Stapleton bowled a 177 and senior Devon Harbin rolled a 171.
In the second game of the day, the Wolves had their worst game with a 757. Love bowled a 178, and Stapleton bowled a 177 to give CCHS its top performances. Harbin bowled a 146, but VanDaley and Wardlow were off their game with a 133 and a 123 respectively.
The performance in the second game had McLemore thinking if he needed to make a change for the third game.
“David Wardlow struggled in his second game, and things looked pretty tough,” said McLemore. “I actually thought about subbing him out. I got to talking to him and said, ‘Look man, I’m probably fixing to take you out at the end of this game and put somebody else in.’ He said, ‘Coach, hold on. I think I’ve got something figured out.’ He threw three strikes in a row and came back and threw three more to start the third game. He was on a roll from there. He threw eight splits in game two. He threw the ball perfect one time and left a 7-10 split. For a kid to come back and make adjustments like that and be able to bowl a 222 in the third game, that’s resiliency. I told the guys, ‘We’ve got the talent to win it, but we’ve just got to do what we’re capable of.’ I feel like the second game to third game improvement says a lot about our kids.”
In the third game, VanDaley started off hot as he found his groove.
“He had a perfect game through six frames I believe,” said McLemore. “In the seventh frame, he lost it. He missed a spare and from there he closed the game out. That’s resiliency. Every bowler has a dream of bowling that 300. To lose it and then be able to compose yourself and close the game out, I thought was really big for him and helped the team in terms of being able to move forward.”
In the Baker Series, the Wolves were dominant by winning the first game 185-158, the second game 164-112 and the third game 188-160.
In the state tournament, VanDaley had a 556 series, Wardlow had a 526 series, Love had a 516 series with a high score of 186, Stapleton had a 503 series with a high score of 177 and Harbin rolled a 456 series with a high score of 171.