Shane Cunningham spent the last 9-and-a-half years in the Coast Guard. When deployed overseas, he’s seen his friends pack footballs, baseballs, mitts… mostly smaller equipment to keep them occupied during their downtime. But Cunningham has something else in mind for his next station, and it’s definitely not small enough to carry with you.
Fowling is a pretty simple concept. It’s football and bowling mixed, where pins are set up on top of a platform and two teams throw footballs to knock the others’ pins down first. A few other rules: if you knock over the 5 pin (in the center) on your first throw, it’s an immediate win, and you aren’t allowed to interfere with the throw if the football lands past a painted line. The best part of the game is the way the football bounces around after it hits the ground. Sometimes your throw can bounce back into your own pins. There’s virtually no predicting it.
Cunningham is in the process of building the pin platforms right now “After they’re built, I’m just painting everything white to start and adding the Coast guard stripe,” he explains. “I’m going to leave the wood in pieces, because it’s easier to ship. We’ll assemble when we get overseas.”
He was first introduced to the sport about 4 years ago, at a block party in Troy. “One of my uncle’s best friends used to play,” he says. “He explained it to me, and I thought it was the simplest, stupidest game ever! I thought it was going to be fun and easy. Then I got really mad because I wasn’t awesome at it right away! That was the big thing. It kept me playing.”
After the painting and construction, state-side and abroad, his work isn’t quite done. “I’m going to be teaching everybody over there how to fowl,” Cunningham says. “At first, like me, they thought it was stupid, but then they saw the pictures and I told them it was much harder than it looked, so they’re excited for it now.”
Fowling has gained a kind of cult following since it began. Paul Konkal is a fellow fowler and friend of Cunningham. “I was at the Indy 500 when they were still making up rules,” he recalls. “It’s funny because I’m a so-so race fan, but probably the last 4 5 times I’ve gone, I get there early just to fowl, then go home before the race starts. So it’s a lot of driving for one day of fowling, but it’s the best tournament there is.”
Cunningham and his fellow fowling enthusiasts have a website, aptly named www.whatsfowling.com. There, they track where fowling has spread across and Cunningham says he’s excited to see the map light up on foreign shores. (Canada doesn’t count in his mind.) Visit to see the map light up, learn the rules, or find out where you can fowl. After all, Cunningham and his friends have a saying for the newly initiated: “Today you woke up a fowler. You just didn’t know it yet.”