Oxford High bowling team honors fallen teammate, wins first sporting event since school shooting

Oxford bowling team
Posted at 9:47 AM, Dec 14, 2021

OXFORD TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Inside Oxford's Collier Lanes, a town rallied for a team doing their best to put the pieces back together, even though one major piece was missing.

"I felt like he should be here," Oxford High School senior bowler Jake Love said. "I knew — I obviously knew he wasn't, and it was tough."

Love is talking about his close friend and teammate Justin Shilling, who was killed in a school shooting at Oxford High just two weeks ago.

Last week, the team came together at Justin's funeral. On Monday, they came together again for their first match of the season.

"It was really nice to just get back out," Love said. "It felt good with all that stuff going on. It was a good distraction, we got to just be ourselves and that was important for us."

"There wasn't a ton of emotion because I think the guys focused on the bowling and the task at hand, and that's exactly what we asked them to do," Oxford High School bowling coach JR Lafnear said.

Lafnear said the team had little to no practice after the tragedy, but he knew his players needed to be together and that they wanted to compete. It was also important to him.

"Me helping them is my therapy," Lafnear said. "I lost a great kid and the only way I get through this is by helping them get through it, and if we can do that then it's a win-win for both of us."

Monday's match was the school's first athletic event since the tragedy. People from all over town showed up at the bowling alley and stayed for nearly three hours to show their support.

"We're just thrilled to see our student-athletes back in action again," Oxford High School athletic director Tony Demare said. "I think what we're seeing here today is really a community that epitomizes Oxford strong."

That support was much needed. Justin was known for his support and being the guy to pick up his teammates when they were down.

"He was always there for you if you needed him. He was the nicest kid I've ever met," Love said. "He lit up the room when he'd walk in, even if it was dark. He was awesome."

Despite the tragedy, Oxford had a resounding victory on Monday. The team continues to put the pieces back together, knowing now that their missing piece may not be missing after all.

"There's no doubt in my mind that Justin was with us tonight," Lafnear said. "I know they felt him. I felt him."

"I think that's gonna be a trend all season," Love said. "We know what we've got to do and we know it's for Justin. We've got to win for him."

This story was originally published by Brett Kast on Scripps station WXYZ in Detroit.