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Chris Hutt is a gregarious, humble, offensive-lineman of a man. Around Detroit, he’s the face of a new sport that has captured the imagination of all sorts of people, but mostly beer drinkers.
"We invented it as a circle of friends," Hutt says. "So it always makes my skin crawl when someone says, 'This guy invented fowling.' No, we invented fowling."
Yes, fowling. Here’s how it happened.
A (Happy) Accident At The Indy 500
Every year, Hutt and a bunch of friends, including Skip Olson and Laura Sullivan, go to the Indianapolis 500.
"The one weekend a year that we all would get back together," Olson says.
"Outside turn four at Indy 500," Sullivan adds.
"There’s just so many people," Hutt says. "It’s Memorial Day. It’s spring. The track itself is so enormous that you can’t even wrap your head around it. There’s so many people. So we’ve been going 21 years. We have 15 RV spots. We park them around the edges of our spots and try to circle the wagons to create a courtyard.
"And our neighbors are the same people every year from different states and Canada. So anyway, every year we’d have a project to try to impress our neighbors, cause, hey, we’re Detroiters. We build things."
"It’s really just a bunch of guys hanging out, having a few beers, figuring out what they can do," Olson says.
By stroke of luck, accident, whatever you want to call it, fowling was born.Skip Olson
"We built Plinko one year, you know Price is Right Plinko," Hutt says. "It was 13-feet tall. We built a scale model of the track, but the track was a moat with water and pumps. We had little rubber ducks. And we had the Duck 500."
"And we decided one year that we were gonna do something a little bit different," Olson says.
"So we built a bowling lane," Hutt says. "Real bowling balls. Real pins. And the first four practice bowls..."
"I’m gonna say," Olson says, "the third or fourth, maybe fifth throw..."
"The ball went through the pins, through our backstop and kept on trucking," Hutt says. "Didn’t even think about slowing down."
"The balls kept going off the board, and we obviously didn't have a mechanical return set up," Sullivan says.
"We chased it for probably 600 yards seemingly," Olson says.
"So that’s not gonna work," Hutt says. "We like our neighbors and a real bowling ball whizzing through your neighbors' camp at ankle level is not neighborly.
"We left the platforms set up with the pins on it. And a couple guys were playing catch [with a] football. A pass wasn’t caught, and the ball bounced on the ground.It went over to the lane and knocked some pins down. 'We should throw the football at the bowling pins.'"
"That’s how it started," Sullivan says.
"Pins are meant to be knocked down," Olson says, "and I’ve got an object in my hand that can knock 'em down. A little bravado, I bet I can knock 'em down faster than you can. By stroke of luck, accident, whatever you want to call it, fowling was born."
"We had another case of pins with us," Hutt says. "So we went and grabbed the other box, set 'em up on the other side and just started throwing the football back and forth and kind of came up with the rules as we went along."
It’s really simple. Imagine a bowling alley, but with 10 pins set up on both ends. The pins are arranged in a triangle, just like in bowling. There’s a team on one end and a team on the other.
"And you’re throwing the football back and forth trying to knock down your opponent's 10 pens before they knock down your 10 pins," Hutt explains.
"I do remember us sitting there going, 'What would we call this?'" Sullivan says. "And literally, you’d go, 'Football, bowling, football, bowling.' And honestly it was like, 'Fowling — football-bowling!'"
"After the second year we started fowling at parties, tailgates for the Lions and Tigers or take it to the beach," Hutt says. "And everywhere we set up it’s like we’re the porch light and they’re the moths. It’s just like, people are like, 'What are you doing?' And we always invite everybody, 'Come on in. This is how you play.'"
It’s been almost 15 years since fowling was born. It’s gone from a tailgate sensation to a new career for Chris Hutt. Last year he quit his job as a brick salesman and opened a 34,000-square-foot Fowling Warehouse.
"It’s a really cool, old factory," Hutt says. "Steel columns, steel beams, the sawtooth roof with all the skylights. I just describe it as the size of a grocery store. And on the weekends, we’ll have 600 people in here to fowl on 20 lanes."
At the warehouse, on any given night, you’ll meet the casual fowlers. And you’ll meet the maniacs. You can decide what Michelle Nowack and her husband Randy Stewart are.
"It never gets boring," Stewart says. "I can sit here and play it, and I have played it, for like 14 hours straight."
"Yeah, it's a bit of an addiction," Nowack says.
"If you had to guess," I ask, "how many games have you played?"
"I gotta be at probably five digits, yeah," Stewart says.
"He's way up there," Nowack says. "I’m not quite the fowler he is."
"Do you do it for him?" I ask.
"She loves it herself," Stewart says. "Couples that fowl together stay together."
"Yes," Nowack says, "couples that fowl together stay together."
Fowling's come a long way from the Indy 500, and Chris Hutt says he's just getting started.
"It's just a joy — working for myself, hopefully making everybody in the room happy," he says. "It wasn't easy. It was hard. Signing a five-year lease on 34,000-square-foot industrial complex with no investors, no business plan, that was scary. But we've always had faith in the game."
So much faith that he's got plans to expand to a city or town near you.
This segment aired on August 29, 2015.
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