Not everyone traveling to the Brainerd lakes area this past weekend was coming for the Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza on Gull Lake.
Some came to compete in the Brainerd Lakes Curling Association’s “Rock & Beer Spiel” Friday-Sunday, Jan. 24-26, at the Fran Holden Curling Arena on the Crow Wing County Fairgrounds in Brainerd.
The “Rock & Beer Spiel” is the curling association’s bonspiel event — an open curling tournament for men and women. Curling, known as chess on ice, consists of teams of four players who slide 40-pound rocks, also called stones, down a sheet of ice to a bullseye called the house. The more rocks in the house the better.
There were 32 teams of four from all over the state competing in the bonspiel. The Brainerd arena had four sheets of ice going at any given time — meaning four matches occurred at the same time. One match would consist of six ends, which is the amount of times the players slide the rocks down the sheet of ice. For the championship events, the players had eight ends.
There were four events — A, B, C and D — and the final eight teams competed in the championship events Sunday afternoon, including the teams of Sheetheads, Hold My Beer and Uff, That’s a Tight Hole, all from the Brainerd Lakes Curling Association; Biermaier Rink of the Duluth Curling Club; Gone Wild from Frogtown; Button Bombers of Chaska; Just Swan of Fargo, North Dakota; and Rock Solid of the Itasca Curling Club.
“This is a bonspiel and it is open to anybody,” said Mary Jo Hamilton, a volunteer with the curling association. “The bonspiel is not an invitational event, but rather anyone can sign up to compete.”
Teams from the Twin Cities metro area to Duluth to Evelyth and Brainerd signed up for the competition. Hamilton said last year there was a team from Colorado.
Hamilton said each team was guaranteed to play three matches, but if a team is successful they can play five.
The Brainerd Lakes Curling Association, which started in 2006 and currently has 240 members, traditionally hosted one bonspiel a year, but now hosts up to three.
“We are all volunteers and these events are like fundraisers for us,” Hamilton said. “We have no debt and we use the funds for the association.”
Hamilton said curling has grown each year and it has been a social and competitive sport for people.
“I was not an athlete in high school, but now I curl three to four times a week and I love it,” Hamilton said. “This is a lifelong sport. Some of the hard sports like football for instance is once you are done, you are done in high school. My grandchildren, my son and my daughter curl and I curl. It’s good exercise.”
Dalen Hodge, an association member, is on a team called Close Enough competing in the D event. The team lost its first two matches by one point, won its third match and lost its final game by one point.
“It was a real nail-biter,” Hodge said. “The last game we lost on the last stone.”
Hodge’s team formed five years ago and competition is last on the list of why they compete.
“We have a lot of fun,” Hodge said. “This is a great sport and we do this for the social aspect of it. Curling is loaded with wonderful people. We have a great time.”
Hodge said the team plays once or twice a week — but they don’t call it practicing — it is more a fun time to get together.
Another Brainerd Lakes Curling Association team called Powers Rink competed this weekend for the first time. On the team are Brent and Jenny Gunsbury and two women from the St. Paul Curling Club. The team won its first two matches to compete in the A group — the strongest event — but lost its third game by one shot.
“That’s all it took and it knocked us out,” Brent Gunsbury said. “It was an extremely close match and a lot of people were watching and were cheering for our opponents. They got more rocks in the house and put them in a better position than we did and won.”
The Gunsburys have been members of the curling association for five to six years and played in a curling league.
“We wanted to do this so Jenny could experience her first bonspiel,” Brent Gunsbury said.
“It was really fun,” Jenny Gunsbury said. “I wasn’t nervous, I was more excited.
“I love the challenge of throwing and delivering the rocks and putting it exactly where the skip (captain) wants it.”
Jenny Gunsbury said the bonspiel is competitive, but it also has a collegial environment.
“There is nothing better to make a winter go by quickly and in a more enjoyable manner than curling,” Brent Gunsbury added.
A team from Chaska called Twisted Curls consisted of two couples — Dan and Tara Follmuth and Randy and Jennifer Fahler. The team lost its first game, won its second and then lost its final game Sunday.
“We love it,” Dan Fullmuth said. “We love the competition. It’s called chess on ice and I like the strategy such as where you place your rock and how you bring it to the center and how you take out rocks and it is super competitive. It's super fun.
“This is a fabulous center here in Brainerd. This sport has been growing since 2018 when USA Team Shuster won the gold in the Olympics. So many clubs have opened up since then. We can play year-round in Chaska.”
Randy Fahler said they have been playing for three years and this is their first bonspiel outside of Chaska.
“Everyone should go out and learn how to curl,” Jennifer Fahler said. “It’s really fun and this is something we can do as couples.”
First event winner was the undefeated Biermaier Rink team of the Duluth Curling Club with Brainerd High School graduate Ben Biermaier, Craig Veer, Steve Jamnick, Riley Giessler.
Second event winner: Hold my Beer, Brainerd Curling Club, with Brian Stenglein, JJ Raboin, Mitchell Nelson, Randy Gunter.
Third event winner: Rock Solid, Itasca Curling Club, with Eric Graber, Joe Kaczor, Bekah Luedtke, Michelle Graber.
Fourth event winner: Button Bombers, Chaska Curling Club, with Don Clemens, Tom Clemens, Nancy Clemens, Laura Clemens.
For more photos, go to https://bit.ly/38Nl197.