When former boys bowling coach Mike Murphy thinks back to his Thunderbolts teams that won back-to-back state championships, in 2005 and 2006, he doesn’t hold back in the comparison department.
“Remember the ‘Dream Team’ (the 1992 U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team) with Michael Jordan and Larry Bird and the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team? That’s what those teams were like,” Murphy said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Championship teams all have this thing called chemistry, and they had it in spades.
“Those championships were one of the highlights of my life. It was a fantastic time. A high school state championship is something kids remember for the rest of their lives. When those kids graduated, it was like I lost part of my family.”
Andrew’s first bowling championship came in just the third season of the Illinois High School Association officially sanctioning the sport and the Thunderbolts’ second year of having a bowling program.
Andrew nearly quailed for state in its first season and had a number of returning bowlers the next year to set the stage for a magical two-year run.
The Thunderbolts had a 12-game pin total of 12,588 to edge Edwardsville (12,574) in the final and capture its first state title in 2005.
“I think our main goal was to just make it past the first day and make the cut,” said the now 23-year-old Tony Yakes, who finished ninth individually with a team-best 2,604 series as a junior. “We didn’t have many expectations. It was our first time downstate. I think that worked to our advantage because we didn’t know what to expect and ended up bowling really well.
“I didn’t know it was that close,” Yakes said of the final score. “I know my father (knew), because he had to leave the bowling alley. We knew it was close and just did what we could and ended up on top.”
Andrew also got contributions from Bill DeBerry (2,577), Ken Trumpey (2,478), Ryan Tracz (2,467) and Mike LaVigne (2,462), while Will Conway, Jim Bergstrom and Dan Tromp were also in the state lineup.
The title came down to a tense 10th frame in the final game with the outcome still up for grabs.
“When we found out we won, we could hardly believe it,” said Murphy, who is now a volunteer coach with the girls bowling team at Andrew. “We were stunned because our scores had been dropping towards the end. The kids were getting tired because they were not used to the tension, pressure and intense competition. After winning, we just all kind of let it sink in.”
Confident Thunderbolts Poised for Repeat
Expectations were much different the next season. Andrew returned just about its entire lineup for another run at glory, and confidence was at an all-time high.
The Thunderbolts trailed Belleville West by 132 pins after the first day at state, but they used a record-setting 3,514 series in the third round while bowling against Belleville to forge ahead and ended up defending their championship by 80 pins.
“Going in, we felt very confident, but we did terrible the first day,” said Trumpey, who placed fourth individually with a 2,786 total. “Once we had the vision that we weren’t going to win this if we didn’t pick it up, we started bowling much better. Looking back, I wish I would’ve realized at the time, how ridiculous it was to win back-to-back championships. We still have records that hold up today. I went down to state last year and I couldn’t believe our records were still there.”
Yakes finished fifth individually with a 2,763 series, while the Thunderbolts also got help from Tracz (2,565), DeBerry (2,519) and Conway (2,518). Pat Murillo, Jim Grant and Tromp were also part of the state team.
Andrew still holds the record for best team series score (3,514, 3 games) thanks to Trumpey (781), Yakes (765), Conway (686), Tracz (628) and DeBerry (654).
“We went down as defending state champions and I never saw a more relaxed bunch of kids,” Murphy said. “They knew the title was theirs for the taking and they put on a clinic. The first championship was disbelief, the second one was ecstatic. It was quite an accomplishment, and everyone was excited beyond belief.”
Tomorrow: Rivalry between teammates helped the Thunderbolts roll to state glory.