It had to be a thrill of a lifetime even if the state championship hardware isn't coming home for a group of area high school bowlers over the weekend.
The entire Ishpeming-Negaunee boys and girls program plus one boy from L'Anse made the long trip to the southern Lower Peninsula for the MHSAA team and singles state finals.
They qualified the previous weekend at regional tournaments held in the northern Lower Peninsula.
Senior Jeff Degenaer represented L'Anse by himself - though I'm sure he had plenty of family and coaching support - at the Division 4 boys singles finals in the Pontiac suburb of Waterford on Saturday morning.
He placed a respectable 31st out of 60 boys in qualifying by rolling 1,082, a 180.3 average. But he didn't do it without some fireworks, rolling the fourth highest game of the day, 265, out of what I counted as 420 games bowled there.
A day earlier, Ishpeming competed in both the boys and girls Division 3 team finals in Jackson.
The girls rolled up the 13th-highest qualifying score of 2,718, missing the eighth-place cut to match play by less than 200 pins with team members Ann Alanen, Kaytlynne Carlson, Danielle Garnet, Kassy Harsila, Saige Matson, Kaylee O'Connor, Kaylee Ronn and Alicia Schmid.
They got off to a rough start in the eight-game Baker style portion, where five bowlers alternate frames to come up with single game scores, averaging 141.8.
But they made up ground when they got to the "regular" bowling, where everyone bowls their own games. Five-player scores of 809 and 775 tied for the seventh best in that part as I-N bowlers averaged 158.4.
The boys, though, were the big story, not only qualifying No. 1 in the 18-team field, but blowing away everyone else by nearly 250 pins.
They had two of the highest Baker games, 235 and 212, in averaging 187.9 in that round, then got even hotter in the regular part, shooting the third-highest game of 954 and highest of 1,030. That's a 198.4 average.
In the 954, Spencer Leivo rolled 218, Kirk Guckenberg 191, Jordan Windahl 188, Austin Wilkins 187 and Tyler Windahl 170.
To get 1,030, Wilkins shot 227, Leivo 221, Guckenberg 213, Matt Kilberg 197 and Jordan Windahl 172.
Match play was next, where I-N outscored Muskegon Orchard View, 1,329-1,309. The losing score was higher than any other team's winning total that round.
They shot 212 and 153 in Baker and 964 in regular as Leivo and Jordan Windahl each hit 209, Tyler Windahl 202, Guckenberg 191 and the Wilkins-Kilberg combo 153.
Then it all came to a screeching halt in the semifinals, where Ishpeming fell to No. 5 Fremont, 1,247-1,139. An 808 game followed 160 and 171 Bakers as the best scores were recorded by Jordan Windahl-Wilkins combining for 185 and Guckenberg shooting 176.
In the next round, Fremont went on to win the state title, beating Corunna, 1,297-1,241.
The I-N bowlers reportedly kept coach Steve Windahl busy rushing back and forth as the boys and girls teams were separated by about 20 lanes.
Four Ishpeming bowlers came back the next day for the singles finals, and while none made the first cut, Guckenberg came close, missing the 16th-place boys cutoff by just 17 pins in six qualifying games, rolling 1,090, including four games of 190 or better.
Jordan Windahl was 31st with 1,050, including a 218, and Leivo was 46th with 993, including 217.
Carlson, who won the Upper Peninsula girls singles title about a month ago, came in 36th in girls qualifying with 1,000, including a 203 game, and was 69 pins away from the cutoff.
Now let's examine our Mining Journal Bowler of the Week file.
In what's got to be the closest race yet, five men were within 13 pins of each other, but it was Fred Nees coming out on top at 142 over his 207 average with a 763 series in the Tuesday Night Mixed at Superior Lanes. His games were 278, 227 and 258.
Here's the rundown on the others - 186-average Wayne LaMere in the Tuesday MGD Major at Country Lanes, plus-135 with 693; Steve Whelan, Superior Wednesday Industrial, plus-132, 151 average, 585; Greg Michels, Tuesday Night Mixed, plus-130, 188 average, 694; and Mathew Adams, Tuesday Night Mixed, plus-129, 196 average, 717.
For the ladies, Freda Waterman, another Tuesday Night Mixed bowler, rolled 135 over her 104 average with 446, including a 165 game.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.