Four years ago, Marcus Spann was a basketball player. Growing up, he also played flag football.
But bowling, a sport his dad introduced him to the summer before his freshman year at Washington Township High School, wasn’t on his radar.
Now? Spann, the anchor of a Minutemen team that claimed both a state championship and Tournament of Champions title last winter, is considering Division-I bowling opportunities in college, or the idea of focusing on academics and turning pro with his budding bowling career.
“It’s surreal,” Spann said before a recent practice at Turnersville’s Bowlero.
“It’s not something you think about. And then it’s, ‘I can really go do this.’”
Spann’s meteoric rise can be credited to two popular tenets for athletes in any sport: a competitive attitude and a constant desire to improve every day through good, old fashioned hard work.
“He’s super competitive, ultra-competitive, so that always helps,” said Washington Township coach Nick Guerrieri, who lost half of his state championship winning team to graduation. “He’s always pushing himself. He’s hungry, he works hard and he’s constantly in the lanes. He’s in leagues.
“He’s a good motivator and does a good job pushing himself and making sure he’s constantly refining his game,” the coach added. “He’s a good leader because of his work ethic and ability to perform at a very high level consistently.”
— TWP Bowling (@BowlingTwp) August 5, 2020
An All-State performer as a junior, Spann enters his senior year without the chance to lead Washington Township to a repeat title: No state championships in any sport are being contested in the COVID-truncated seasons of 2020-’21. But he has an opportunity to continue improving his own game and building Township’s program, too.
Spann’s final performance of his junior season could be a harbinger of things to come. On Feb. 10 at Bowlero in North Brunswick, Spann bowled a 279, his highest single game of the season, as Township tried to make the most of its berth in the state team tournaments as a wild card entrant.
After the Minutemen did just that in taking the Group 4 state championship that day, they went on to dominate the last two games of the Tournament of Champions battle with Jackson Liberty that afternoon, led by Spann’s steady hand.
Spann finished off the most memorable day in his three year bowling career with two strikes out of three attempts in the 10th (and final) frame of the Baker format.
Even without a chance to claim the same trophy in 2021, Guerrieri knows he doesn’t have to worry about his senior captain being motivated for his final scholastic season.
“Marcus has gotten better every year and I’m sure he came in with a fire under him,” Guerrieri said. “And I know he wants to bowl collegiately. He’ll be a terrific collegiate bowler.
“I know he wants to leave his mark,” the coach added. “Even though there aren’t the typical sectional and state championships this year, he wants to set personal records and I know he wants to leave the program in a great place.”
With the pandemic shutting down bowling lanes last spring and the beginning of summer, Spann used his time to continue fine-tuning his form at home, keep up his workout program with free weights and stay on top of PBA events on YouTube by watching some of his favorites compete on the tour, such as E.J. Tackett, Kris Prather, Anthony Simonsen, Jason Belmonte and Jesper Svensson.
“All summer,” Spann said. “If I could find it on YouTube, I was watching it.”
When he gets Washington Township’s season rolling this week, Spann will see a bit of a role reversal. Along with juniors Steven Spino and David Libby, the two other returning starters from Township’s state championship team, it’ll be Spann that other Minutemen will try to emulate as they compete for their own spots on the roster.
“They all work great with the younger guys,” Guerrieri explained. “They’ve adopted the mentality that they need to continue to put back into the program if they want it to maintain the level of being competitive every year. They have to help the younger guys and pick them up. They’ve become very good teachers and coaches in the lane, and that’s important.”
In a shortened season, Washington Township has a smaller, nine-match window to keep one of its bigger team goals alive: to go undefeated for the second straight year. The team’s last loss came more than two years ago, on Jan. 10, 2019 against Olympic Conference rival Eastern.
The Minutemen will meet Eastern early this year — on Feb. 2, in their third match of the season — in what should be an entertaining battle of top teams and individuals. Eastern junior Tommy Burns won the NJSIAA individual state title championship last February.
“That’s my rival,” Spann said with a laugh. “It’s always competitive, always fun, always a good time.”
It’s not unlike Spann’s introduction to the sport as a 13-year-old, battling against his father, a former football player at Cornell University.
“My dad pushed me,” Spann said of his father, Dean Spann, a former East Orange fire chief. “He could throw whatever I’d throw. So if he threw a 250, then I knew I had to throw a 250. He said, ‘If you can beat me, you can beat anybody.’ That was kind of his mindset.”
Spann was finally able to beat his dad about two years ago, and he’s inherited the same mentality.
“I’m shooting for the moon; I’d like to average 230-plus,” said Spann, who had a 220 average as a junior. “At least one or two 300 (games) this year and possibly an 800 to go along with it.”