Bowling is a ‘real gift’ for Michael Collins

By Steve Williams

At the end of bowling’s regular season I learned Bearden High senior Michael Collins was receiving some special honors. I also figured out Hedy Collins, the new Bearden coach, was Michael’s mom.

I thought that might make an interesting feature so I set up an interview with them and we met one afternoon at the Western Avenue Strike & Spare Bowling Lanes, which just happens to be Michael’s favorite place.

Michael is a special needs student at BHS and a lifelong bowler. I had met him a couple times before in his high school career and did a story on the Bulldogs’ 2020 Unified bowling team that Michael was a part of his freshman year when their team placed second in the TSSAA state tournament.

I also had talked to Hedy around that time about the bowling lane the family built in their yard for Michael to practice on and enjoy in between trips to the bowling alley. So I was curious too to find out how Hedy had become the head coach.

The interview lasted about an hour and I learned quite a bit about Michael and coach/mom. It included funny moments and near tearful ones too.

The interview started with Michael calling me Clark Kent, The Daily Planet newspaper reporter that Superman disguised as before flying off to make a rescue. I laughed and told Michael I was a reporter but not a Superman. But his knowledge of the powerful fictional character who I knew when I was a high school kid bridged our generation gap and I would later find out Michael and I had even more in common.

I congratulated Michael on receiving the “Spirit of Sportsmanship Award” from the coaches in District 3. “I feel proud about myself getting that award,” he said. He’s also been nominated for the “Spotlight Award” in the achievement category that will be presented this coming Saturday by the Smoky Mountain USBC (United States Bowling Congress) in Sevierville.

Before I left the Western Avenue Strike & Spare Lanes after the interview that day I asked Wendy Cox, the manager there, to comment on Michael, as she also is on the Board of the Smoky Mountain USBC.

“He is a gem,” said Wendy. “Michael Collins is the sweetest kid and bowling is his passion. I’ve never had a youth bowler more excited to walk in here and bowl than Michael. He knows anything and everything about bowling – bowling balls, pro bowlers. He studies it and he loves it.”

Collins’ scores have gotten much better since getting a Track Stealth bowling ball for Christmas. He started scoring in the 130s and 140s and had a 151. His season average was 109 and his best game ever he said is a 163.

One of the things I asked Hedy about in the interview was how she came to be the Bearden coach. “Being a bowling coach is something that never crossed my mind, and when I found out there wasn’t a coach, I knew for Michael’s sake I had to do it,” she said.

Michael would later tell me, “She did pretty good coaching bowling for the first time,” adding that she treated everyone equally, like “family equally. Because mom is the coach and me and the guys and the girls are brothers and sisters, kind of like having a bowling family. And she was fair.”

Bearden sophomore Olivia Hailey, who Coach Collins accompanied to the recent state tournament, also was asked to comment on the new coach. “I think she did really well actually, given that we thought we were going to have two separate teams (boys’ and girls’) and then we ended up with a coed team.”

Michael and his dad, Terry Collins, often bowl together and last year placed third in a doubles tournament. When they are bowling together Michael said his dad likes “to try to beat me,” but “it’s just the opposite. I always beat him.”

Michael added that he and his dad have the same competitive rivalry as pro bowlers Jason Belmonte and Sean Rash.

Maxwell Collins, Michael’s younger brother, sometimes comes and bowls but is more into theatre and drama at Bearden.

I told Michael during the interview that I was from the Earl Anthony era.

“He’s a lefty,” Michael quickly said, revealing his knowledge of bowling that extends even back into the 1960s when Dick Weber and Carmen Salvino were standouts on the pro tour.

I asked Michael if he ever watches some of the old PBA matches on YouTube, and before he could answer, his mom said: “That’s all he watches at home!”

Michael, when he was six years old, even met Salvino, “the grandfather of the PBA,” in Indianapolis. “Salvino taught Michael the proper follow-through technique,” said Hedy, showing how “the thumb goes to God and then to your ear.”

Part of the interview dealt with some health issues. “We had a health scare with Michael,” said Hedy. “He was losing a lot of weight. That was almost two years ago. So I had to quit teaching (fourth grade at West Hills Elementary) to stay home and care for him. He was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. But we’ve got the right medicine now and we’ve got that all under control.”

Since then, however, Hedy said Michael is “the sixth person in the world diagnosed with a rare disease that includes movement disorder, intellectual disorder, epilepsy and global developmental delays. The tremors in his entire body make it difficult for him to do a lot of things. However, those tremors don’t bother him when he is bowling.

“Bowling is a real gift. He loves it and it’s something he can do that his disease doesn’t bother.

“That’s why we use the word perseverance with Michael,” continued Hedy. “It’s because he has had more challenges than most 18-year-olds. But he keeps on trying and he keeps on smiling and he keeps on bringing joy to everybody.

“As his parents, our goal is to allow him to live everyday like it’s the best day he’s going to have. And in our bedtime prayers, we just ask God for one more day together.”