Brainerd Lakes Curling Club reaps reward of public spotlight
Curling is king in Brainerd and on TV--at least for the moment--while the Brainerd Lakes Curling Club plays host to a national championship and with the Winter Olympics well underway.
Curling is king in Brainerd and on TV-at least for the moment-while the Brainerd Lakes Curling Club plays host to a national championship and with the Winter Olympics well underway.
Some of the best curling teams throughout the nation are in town, culminating in the national title finale at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in Brainerd as part of the club association's first-time hosting the USA Curling's Club National Championships.
"The club is actually going into its 11th year as a club, but the first four, five years, we rented ice," said Mary Jo Hamilton, board chairwoman of the Brainerd Lakes Curling Association and chairwoman of the USA Curling's Club National Championships.
Men's curling teams from Seattle and Fargo, N.D., squared off Tuesday night in Brainerd as the only two undefeated teams in a field of 10 competing in USA Curling's Club National Championship.
Not far from here, Bemidji, the home of America's only Olympic medal-winning curling team, has been a hotbed for the sport for generations, according to those familiar with the sport.
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Photo Gallery - USA Curling's Club National Championships Thursday
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"Curling is a very social sport, and there would be no place for us at the time for us to socialize," Hamilton said of the history of curling in the Brainerd lakes area, often outdoors, before a semi-permanent home was built. "We go somewhere, curl and then we'd leave, cuz it's cold."
The club's building was intended to be used six months of the year by the Brainerd Lakes Curling Association with the rest of year used by the Crow Wing County Fair, thanks to a generous donor who made construction of the facility possible on the fairgrounds.
"In 2011, my aunt Fran Holden gave them $1,050,000 and we built this area. ... And it was critical to have what we call 'dedicated ice' to make a facility really grow, and so that's what we have now-no hockey skates and no Zambonis," Hamilton said. "We opened here on Jan. 29, 2012, with about 75 members and now we have 210 members, so we've grown that rapidly ... growing by about 10 percent a year since we've opened this building."
The 2018 Winter Olympics are underway in PyeongChang, South Korea, putting curling front and center again before a worldwide audience. Despite its apparent popular appeal among many countries with colder conditions, for many the sport still remains a mystery.
"Curling is a team sport played by two teams of four players on a rectangular sheet of ice. Its nickname, 'the roaring game,' originates from the rumbling sound the 44-pound granite stones make when they travel across the ice," according to the official Winter Olympics website.
But what most see when they watch curlers is a bowling ball-like object with handle being projected across the ice while participants use a broom or brush to attempt to guide the stone's trajectory and speed before it collides or misses other stones among a concentric circle.
"They're no fence-sitters," Hamilton said with a chuckle about the apparent divisive nature of the sport's appeal among those who either consider it "dumb," as she said, or ardent enthusiasts.
The 70-year-old curls four times a week in Brainerd. She started about 15 years ago in Wisconsin and hasn't stopped since picking up the sport, which is firmly established in Canada.
"As a grandmother, I curl, my children curl and my grandchildren curl, and this truly is a lifelong sport, so that's critically important for me in working with kids," she said. "And the other thing I really like about curling is we take all abilities to curl. ... You are put on a team and you play."
Brainerd Lakes Curling Club's hosting of the national championships, which is USA Curling's largest and most prestigious amateur curling competition, it puts a feather in the club's cap.
"We've gotten a few new members that were made aware of it. We just had a couple who moved here, for instance, and they saw the opening ceremony was happening and they came down here and joined," Hamilton said.
Curling has been an official sport in the Winter Olympic Games since the 1998 Winter Olympics.
"But to me, what's the most exciting factor is the fact that we've had three schools contact us in the last week to bring kids here," Hamilton said
"I've got a school ... across from the casino in Mille Lacs ... and one of the local public schools trying to get a 125 third- and fourth-graders over here and yesterday Pillager called us. This is all as a result of the publicity and awareness being raised by having a national event here."