Throw-ins in soccer are so typical that most of the time you hardly even notice it happens.
But a Wilson Bowles throw-in is a spectacle.
Whenever the ball goes out of bounds, the Martinsville junior sprints to the sideline - either sideline, it doesn’t even matter where he is standing - picks the ball up and immediately steps back from the field.
Way off the field. Beyond the grass, beyond the lip the field sits on top of, beyond the first two or three lanes on the track. All the while his team is getting in position, usually close to the goal as if they’re awaiting a t-shirt shot out of a cannon at a baseball game.
Bowles then gets a running start, takes about five or seven steps, falls forward onto the ball, flips his entire body over it, and flings it into the air as soon as his feet touch the ground. The projectile usually lands with perfect accuracy, and if it works it leads to a goal for the Bulldogs.
Or a goal for Bowles. In a game earlier this season against Magna Vista, he threw the ball in, got his own rebound and left-footed it into the back of the net.
Last week against Patrick County, standing about 1/3 of the way between the goal and midfield, Bowles threw the ball into the goal. The referees determined that it hadn’t been touched by the goalkeeper, so it didn’t count, but it still looked awesome.
In the Bulldogs first game against Patrick County, Bowles said he threw one 65 yards, nearly 2/3 the length of a football field. The flip does the trick.
“Normal, I think I can only throw it like maybe 20, or 15 yards,” he said.
Athletes in any sport will spend hours and hours perfecting their shot, dribbling, hitting stance or pitching windup to be the best they can be. But when athletes take the mundane, smaller aspects of the game, those little things that people usually don’t even practice or pay attention to, and can turn it into their own trick, their own thing that no one else can do, it makes every game must see for reasons you wouldn’t even expect.
Bowles is hardly the first person to attempt, or even perfect, the flip throw. But I have yet to see anyone around the area do one, and if they did it likely wouldn’t be with the distance or accuracy of Bowles.
Even his coach, 30 year coaching veteran Pete Scouras, said it’s unlike anything he’s seen.
“I’ve had like two guys that could do it, and nobody, I’ve been doing this for 31 years and I’ve never seen anybody at any district, state, regional level that can throw it that accurate and that far,” Scouras said after the Bulldogs recent game against Patrick County. “He’s almost like a freak, in a nice way. He runs all the way. He runs the whole game, then he does all that. I thought tonight he flipped so much he was going to get dizzy.”
So what’s the secret to a perfect flip? In my never-ending quest to find (and possibly try) the coolest of all sports moves, I talked with Bowles last week about how he perfected the flip-throw, and what it takes to master such a weird soccer art.
But, you may be disappointed to learn that perfecting the throw didn’t take long at all.
“I started doing it my freshman year,” Bowles said. “I saw one of my friends try to do it and I was like ‘I can do that easily,’ and it just happened.
“It came really easy. Very easy to me… I’m not trying to brag but it was very easy for me,” he added with a laugh.
Of course it would come easy for a high school junior who’s been taking gymnastic lessons since he was 18 months old. A front-handspring with a soccer ball is nothing compared to what Bowles does in his other competitions.
Two years ago, Bowles finished second in his gymnastics region in the floor routine. A region that includes North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Mississippi.
“I can do a lot of flips,” he said.
So what exactly is the key to a perfect flip throw? How would Bowles teach it to a novice who has never taken a gymnastics class?
“You make sure you have a good grip on the ball for sure. And make sure it’s not moving when the ball is on the ground,” he said. “And as soon as your feet touch the ground you just chuck it.”
Seems easy enough. It’s just a simple front flip, while holding a soccer ball, and as soon as you’re done flipping you have to throw the ball, over your head, while keeping both of your feet on the ground. No problem.
“It’s harder than you think. I’ve tried it,” said Bowles’ Martinsville teammate Khalil Travis. “It didn’t go so good.”
Athletes, making the extremely difficult seem easy and look awesome since the beginning of time.