How An Errant Football Turned Into One Detroiter's Livelihood

 

“Born at Speedway, raised in Detroit.”

That is how fowling creator and owner of the Fowling Warehouse, Chris Hutt, a Bloomfield Township native, describes the upbringing of his beloved sport that, over time, became his livelihood. The sport of fowling, for those unaware, uses attributes of American football and bowling. The concept of the game is simple enough. It is usually played between two teams consisting of two players each, standing 32-feet apart. Participants are to throw a football at a standard set of bowling pins with the intention of knocking them all down. The first team to do so wins the game. While the concept sounds simple, and not particularly exciting, the popularity of the game has grown to house a dedicated warehouse spanning 35,000 square feet, 20 lanes, and thousands of visitors every week in a small enclave of Detroit called Hamtramck. That is where the sport of fowling currently stands, but you have to look back a little over 15 years to find how an errant football striking a set of bowling pins in the small town of Speedway, Indiana would spark an idea that would eventually consume Hutt’s life.

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“We don’t like NASCAR, we like fast cars,” says Hutt, describing his and his entourage’s love for the yearly INDYCAR race, the Indianapolis 500, a racing spectacle Hutt and crew have been faithfully attending each Memorial Day weekend for upwards of 20 years now.  “It’s a three day party followed by one of the biggest races on our planet,” Hutt described, “and we’re always in the exact same camping lot, next to the exact same neighbors from all these different states, and we know them very well.”

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As the comfort level between the neighboring tailgates grew with each passing year, the desire to represent one’s home city with the best pre-race hangout became somewhat of a friendly rivalry between the adjoining parties.

“Every year we try to have a project to impress our neighbors with our Detroit-ness,” explained Hutt, and like many Detroit natives, Hutt and team went with a hands-on approach, “We’re Detroiters, we build things.”

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So, in 2001, that is what they did, arriving on a Friday morning to Speedway with two creations. The first, a huge success, was a compartmentalized version of an octagonal shaped Tiki bar with running taps, a covered roof, and seating that could accommodate up to 50 people. The second, a two-lane “alley” designed to be a tailgate approach to classic bowling which turned into more of a safety hazard than a leisure game due to a faulty backstop. “We gave ourselves an ‘F’ for that one,” Hutt said of his urban bowling alley. Instead of impressing their neighbors like they had done with the Tiki bar, Hutt and crew were slightly off the mark as stray bowling balls were traveling with speed at ankle height, effectively scaring and endangering tailgate participants.

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Accepting failure, they began to pack up the lanes, but before they did, an overthrown football striking a set of their pins would give the Detroit party a chance at redemption. The wayward football ignited an idea, and that evening Hutt and friends went back and forth throwing the football at the pins, attempting to formulate a structured game out of it, or, as Hutt described, “arguing like little babies about what the rules should be.” By the end of the night, they were able to lay out the very basic structure of the game. As the idea began to turn heads and garner interest around the Speedway tailgate, Hutt and crew split their failed bowling project into three separate fowling lanes, bought 40 more pins from a local bowling alley, and picked up two more footballs from the Speedway Meijer. Then, “it was on.”

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“So the next day, Friday, we had three lanes, everyone was getting a chance to play- and it was turning and burning,” said Hutt. The game was so successful during that very weekend, they were able to sign up 24 teams and host a tournament the next day, a spectacle Hutt proudly refers to as “Inaugural Super-Fowl Saturday.” Fast-forward to 2016, and that same tournament is now an Indianapolis 500 tradition, only, the tournament is up to 102 teams and the tailgate area has 10 lanes on which to play.

From that inaugural weekend on, Hutt described fowling as an idea that consumed his thoughts. Bouncing back and forth from a few bars in Detroit and surrounding areas who allowed him to play his treasured game, Hutt decided to start a league that played every Wednesday night. The destination was a unique one, the Toys Warehouse, located across from Mount Olivet Cemetery at Van Dyke and McNichols in Detroit. The warehouse was originally an old lumber company that is now abandoned and draped in graffiti to resemble that of a massive toy store. It was playing here, in an area that is not considered the safest, where Hutt realized the potential popularity his game had. The game grew by word-of-mouth, and eventually outgrew its one-night-a-week affair (despite the uncommon location), and Hutt was facilitating the club seven days a week while also maintaining his day job.

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“I still had my day job, working eight to five,” Hutt described his hectic schedule of working at Brick Tech during the day while maintaining his dream career at night. “I was working in Berkley living in Ferndale, so I would come home from work, eat, maybe take an hour breather and then I’d open the warehouse in Detroit at seven.” Hutt was working every night until at least midnight, and on the weekends even later. This was a schedule he maintained for two and a half years.

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“During that time, the goal in my mind is where we are now.” The goal Hutt was referring to is 3901 Christopher Street in Hamtramck (a location sharing his first name, which he affectionately describes as “destiny”) that today houses the Fowling Warehouse; which is fitting given the sport’s birth. “Just like Speedway is an enclave of Indianapolis, Hamtramck is an enclave of Detroit.” In addition to their abundance of space and ample number of lanes, the Fowling Warehouse also features 185 different beers, two bar areas, countless TVs, and even lockers if you need an area to store your belongings while you fowl.

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The Fowling Warehouse in Hamtramck opened their doors on December 4th, 2014, and has seen overwhelming success, drawing a melting pot of visitors from the heart of the city to the outskirts of the suburbs, while also being a hotspot destination for those visiting from out of state. As Hutt explained his story, you could feel his excitement and passion for the sport he created. His dream was to take his obscure idea and open a warehouse to the public where visitors could “toss back a few cold ones and throw a football at some bowling pins.” At age 47, he has done exactly that. Hutt says he couldn’t be happier with his staff, the location, and the future plans for the sport of fowling, those of which he would not disclose. “Stay tuned,” Hutt informed, as he and his team quickly approach their second year anniversary, “there is more to come from the sport of fowling.”