When speaking about senior Tommy Burns and what he’s accomplished in his four years at Eastern Regional High School, coach Eric Datis didn’t need much time to ponder the legacy Burns will leave behind.
“He’s the best bowler Eastern has ever had,” Datis said.
Burns leaves Eastern as the program’s record holder for highest average game across all four grade levels, meaning he also holds the highest, single-season and the highest career averages for the Vikings. His game average of 237 this season also led all bowlers in the state for the 2021-’22 season.
Burns helped lead Eastern to a 13-0-2 record this year, propelling the Vikings to their first Olympic Conference championship since his freshman year — the 2020-’21 season didn’t technically allow for official conference champions — and first boys sectional title during Datis’ 11-year career as head coach.
For that, Burns is South Jersey Sports Weekly’s 2021-’22 boys Bowler of the Year.
It was a poetic year for Burns in a sense: He entered his senior year having bowled 12 career 300s, but none with Eastern. So it was definitely on the list of things Burns wanted to cross off his checklist by the end of the season.
“That was one of the main goals coming in for sure,” Burns said. “I had kind of been on fire going into the senior year with bowling 300s, but I’d just never done it with Eastern before for some reason.”
Heading into an early-season match with Cherry Hill East, Datis had a conversation with another coach in the conference about how one of the latter’s bowlers accomplished what Burns did. That coach was in the process of buying his bowler a ring for the event, as long as it took place in a sanctioned game.
“We were at the Olympic Holiday Tournament and I was talking to another coach about that process of buying the ring, and I realized I only had one bowler bowl a 300 for me before, and we didn’t get them the ring,” Datis said.
“I told myself that the next time it happens, I’ll make sure I do that,” the coach added. “Sure enough, the next match, [Burns] made me live up to my word as quickly as possible.”
Burns also rolled a 300 about two months later to help clinch the South Jersey Group 4 sectional title over conference rival Washington Township. Finishing off each of the two games to achieve the feat both times — making him the only Eastern bowler to have two 300s in a career in 27 years of record-keeping — were both amazing feelings, for different reasons.
“The one I shot towards the beginning of the year meant a lot more to me personally, I feel like,” Burns said. “I have a video of it and the emotions after I get it in that video are just hard to express. The one at sectionals was more for the team as a whole than myself obviously; their motivation and excitement to help make that happen was so important.
“I was just playing my part in getting what we all wanted.”
Moments such as that have made Burns’ experience as part of the Eastern bowling team a time that shaped him as both a bowler and a young man as he heads to Mount Mercy University in Iowa, where he will realize his childhood dream of bowling in college.
“I believe that my four years at Eastern have helped me mature beyond belief, both in and out of the lanes,” Burns said. “They pushed me to be a better person and a better bowler … I always had the goal of bowling in college or on the pro tour, and I believe that the pro tour will always be there, so I’m excited to go get my education first and get started at Mount Mercy University.”