The trophy case at Eastern Regional High School is crowded with hardware, recognizing the best teams and players in the rich history of school athletics. But there’s a particular garment that sticks out to sophomore Tommy Burns.
“I walk through the hallways every day, every morning when I walk through, and I see that one bowling jersey,” Burns said. “And I want to be the second jersey in there.”
Burns was referring to the uniform top of Eastern alum Matt Young, who currently bowls at William Paterson University. Young is the most decorated bowler in school history: he’s the last Viking to bowl a 300 and he finished seventh in the state as a junior.
Burns got his own prep career off to a strong start by advancing to states and finishing 35th as a freshman last winter.
“For as good as (Young) was, he kept missing states. He only made it his junior year,” Eastern bowling coach Eric Datis said. “So if Tommy makes it to states one more time, he’ll already have something (on him).”
Burns is already one of South Jersey’s top bowlers: He’s consistently bowled games in the mid-200s this season as he counts down the days until he gets another chance at states.
“I love how competitive he is,” Datis said. “Sometimes you just have kids that are so nice. And not aggressive. And in bowling he’s very aggressive and he has a passion for it, which is awesome.”
Burns took time to take part in the Q&A with South Jersey Sports Weekly last week.
SJSW: How long have you been bowling?
Tommy Burns: At least five years.
SJSW: What got you into it?
Burns: I went bowling with my dad and mom. I picked up a nine-pound ball — I still remember, it was gray — and I threw it with the bumpers on. And then I looked at my dad and I told him, “I’m going to go after you” with no bumpers. I threw it and got three strikes in a row, with a nine-pound ball. I felt pretty accomplished. So then my parents (Maria and Tom Burns) got me involved in a league on Saturday mornings. I moved up to a 10-pound ball. And from there I kept going up and up. I started understanding the fundamentals of the sport, started getting better and now I’m here.
SJSW: How old were you when you got those four strikes in a row?
Burns: Nine or 10, I think.
SJSW: What’s your favorite thing about bowling?
Burns: The friendships. And through bowling, I’ve gotten to know a lot of the pros and a lot of their sons I’m good friends with. Like Brandon Bohn, Justin Bohn and Sydney Bohn — they’re all (professional bowler) Parker Bohn’s sons. They live in Jackson and I’m friends with them. That’s probably the best thing that’s happened (with my bowling), because knowing them, they’ve helped me get better through the sport.
SJSW: How did you get to know them?
Burns: I bowl at 30 Strikes. I was in a tournament with Brandon when we were really, really young — we didn’t know each other at the time. I was first place and he was second. And then he went against me in match play for the title match I got second place. From there, we connected and just got closer and closer. Now every Friday night we bowl in a league together.
SJSW: What’s one thing that most people don’t realize about bowling?
Burns: It’s all mental. Very mental. Extremely mental.
SJSW: So when you get in the zone, you have to stay there?
Burns: Yeah. When you miss a spare and it gets in your mind, you’re supposed to forget about it, it’s in the past. You can’t do anything once you release (the ball); that’s what I’ve been told. You can’t really do anything about it. But for me, what I focus on whenever I miss I have to come back and work on whatever I did wrong on that shot. And do better on the next shot.
SJSW: Have you ever bowled a perfect game?
Burns: Yeah, I have eight.
SJSW: When was the most recent one?
Burns: Last year, on January 13 (2019). In the Friday night league in Jackson.
SJSW: Have you competed in other sports?
Burns: I’ve done soccer, lacrosse, baseball. I’ve been all around..
SJSW: Let’s talk about your teammates. Who is the best at collecting spares?
Burns: Probably Colby (Ackerman).
SJSW: Who is the funniest?
Burns: Nick Buongiovanni.
SJSW: How about the smartest?
Burns: Probably Colby.
SJSW: What do you like to do best when you’re not bowling?
Burns: I like woodworking … Right now I’m actually working on a bowling rack because there are so many bowling balls at my house.
SJSW: What’s your favorite school subject?
Burns: Probably chemistry. Science.
SJSW: Favorite teacher?
Burns: I want to say Mr. Datis. He’s pretty chill.
SJSW: What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
Burns: Probably one I just read about psychology in sports; it’s about bowling. “Bowling: The Handbook of Bowling Psychology.”
SJSW: Have you seen any good movies lately?
Burns: I want to go see the new Star Wars movie. The preview looks pretty good. But the one I have seen is called “Code 8.” It’s about people with special powers but you’re not supposed to show them, or else the police take you away. It’s pretty cool, it was on Fios.
SJSW: If we’re at the state tournament and each bowler gets to walk out to his own song, what are you picking?
Burns: “Party in the U.S.A.”
SJSW: By Miley Cyrus?
Burns: [Laughs] Yeah. For me, Brandon Bohn and Justin Bohn, that’s our favorite song to jam out to any time, anywhere. [Laughs]. Something a little wild.