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Detroit Nurtures a Home-Grown Hybrid Sport: Fowling

9 Sep, 2015

By: Tracey Schelmetic

While restaurants are busy inventing new types of hybrid cuisine (Korean tacos, anyone?), the sports world hasn’t been far behind. While we may chuckle at the idea of “headis,” a mixture of table tennis and football in which players bounce a ball across the table with their heads, it’s important to remember that many mainstream sports began as new hybrids.

One of the newest hybrid sports to come along is called fowling (“FOH-ling), a combination of football and bowling invented by Ferndale, Michigan resident Chris Hutt and his friends and recently profiled in The Detroit Hour by writer Patrick Dunn. Fowling matches are played with two wooden platforms, 20 bowling pins and a regulation size football. Bowling pins should be standard regulation size and weight. Fowling matches can be set up for singles’ or doubles’ play.

“Two traditional arrangements of 10 bowling pins are set up on two flat boards, placed 48 feet apart from each other,” wrote Dunn. “Fowlers take turns throwing a football from their board to the opposition's board, competing to knock down their opponents' pins first. Unlike bowling, the ball is actually much lighter than the pins, and fowlers have to adopt strategies that at first feel counterintuitive.”

Hutt and friends began gathering groups of friends to play in Detroit on a regular basis, first in an empty warehouse in Troy and then in the parking lot of the Stonehouse Bar near the old State Fairgrounds. The new sport’s fan base grew larger, and Hutt sought a permanent location for fowling enthusiasts. (Previously, fowling was largely played as a “tailgate” game.) As a next step, he converted an old toy warehouse on Van Dyke Avenue near McNichols Road (one of Detroit’s less-savory neighborhoods) and opened it to players with a promise of “all night fowling” for just $10, but vandals ultimately damaged the premises. Finally, the sport of fowling found a permanent home: an auto parts warehouse in Hamtramck, just south of Conant Street and Holbrook Avenue. The new venue, once it opens this month, will include 20 fowling lanes, an indoor beer garden, and a stage.

While it may not be sweeping the world yet – a fowling tournament held last winter at Eastern Market in Detroit attracted 82 players – it reportedly has a small following around the U.S. and even in tiny pockets abroad, including Kuwait, Germany, and Sweden, largely made up of friends and family members of Hutt and his friends. It even has a governing body: the American Fowling Association (AFA) has been formed to establish a set of guidelines in order to govern sanctioned tournament play. While it may not be ready for the Olympics yet, every new sport needs to start somewhere.

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