Crookston Sports Center draws new curlers out to the sheet
CROOKSTON -- The first rock thrown Wednesday evening by Sarah Reese barreled through the house. "Less muscle, more brain," she told herself as she playfully tapped herself on the side of her stocking cap-covered head. Minutes later, after her roc...
CROOKSTON -- The first rock thrown Wednesday evening by Sarah Reese barreled through the house.
"Less muscle, more brain," she told herself as she playfully tapped herself on the side of her stocking cap-covered head.
Minutes later, after her rock displaced an opposition rock on the button -- curling jargon's version of the bull's-eye -- she raised her arms in triumph and had another succinct message: "Amen. Yes."
Reese's lighthearted responses were typical of the atmosphere at the adult curling league that started at the Crookston Sports Center in December, marking the sport's first organized appearance in the city since the 1940s.
Participants in the two Wednesday night leagues number 60 and another 40 will join the fun next week with the addition of a Wednesday afternoon league geared for seniors.
"The response has been surprising," organizer Andrew Johnson said. "More people are interested in curling than we have room for."
Large percentage of rookies
Johnson and fellow organizers Garrett Borowicz and Greg Widseth estimate that 80 to 90 percent of the participants had never curled before opening night on Dec. 11. An even higher percentage of participants see it more as a social outing than an athletic competition.
"It's fun to try something different," Brenda Froeber said. "Because most of us have never done it before, you don't feel uncomfortable."
Some of the teams are all men, some are all women and most are a mix, a sign that participation rules over competition as a priority. The social aspect of the sport also is appealing, the newcomers said.
"It's something you can do with your husband and friends," Marley Melbye said. "We're not competitive because most of us are all learning together. It's been a lot of fun."
The closing of the Corral Lanes bowling alley in May of 2009 was another impetus for adding curling. Although participation in bowling had dropped over the years, the bowling provided a wintertime recreation.
And, like with bowling, senior citizens and children also can participate in curling.
"There are a lot of people looking for something to do," Borowicz said.
A multi-use facility
Johnson, Borowicz and Widseth have been competing for several years at the Grand Forks Curling Club and plan on continuing to participate at both locations.
"It's the same game, just different ice conditions," Widseth said. "Grand Forks has curling ice and we have arena ice. The interest here could be a benefit to Grand Forks curling eventually."
The addition of curling is more proof that promises are being kept about the $15 million Crookston Sports Center, which opened in January 2010. The promise was that it would be more than just a hockey arena. Although its three ice sheets are used mostly for hockey and figure skating, curling joins a list of other purposes.
Scott Riopelle, director of parks and recreation, said the arena also has been used for soccer, football, baseball, tennis and golf practices and been home to dances, receptions, concerts and trade shows.
Riopelle said the curling startup cost for the Park District is $30,000, most of it going for the rocks, hacks, brooms and equipment used to pebble the ice. The hacks, similar to starting blocks in track, are portable, so the ice can easily be converted back for skating uses.
However, given the response, one day of curling may not be enough next winter, enthusiasts say.
Bucking the trend
Curling participation spikes after television exposure during the Winter Olympics years, area curlers say. So they're looking for a similar interest hike after the 2014 Games, which begin in early February.
However, over time, curlers' numbers have declined.
"We've been pretty steady, between 200 and 250 members in recent years," said Jim Satrom, the Grand Forks Curling Club chairman and a member of its board for 40 years.
"But, when I was growing up, there were probably 40 curling rinks in the region. All kinds of small towns no longer have rinks. When I started curling in the 1960s, many women were in afternoon curling leagues. Now, they're all working."
Bemidji, Hallock, Stephen, Thief River Falls and now Crookston, are the remaining clubs in northwestern Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Curling Association.
The North Dakota Curling Association has 11 clubs, including Devils Lake, Drayton, Grafton, Grand Forks and Langdon in the northeastern corner.
Despite the trends, Borowicz said the curling interest surge in this city of 8,000 is encouraging for the sport's future.
"If you had asked around town for donations to build a curling club a year ago, you wouldn't have gotten a dime," Borowicz said. "But now with this popularity shown, we have a lot better chance of doing something. We've taken a huge step in a short time."
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