With the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing, spectators will instantly become fans of all kinds of sports, including those they might not otherwise be aware of. One of those sports: curling.
Besides being a competitive sport at the Olympic level, it is also popular as an amateur sport. Local experts say it’s easy to learn, can be played by almost anyone of any age, and doesn’t take a lot of money to get started.
Curling has been around in the Milwaukee area for over 100 years and is even one of the oldest team sports, having started in 16th century Scotland, according to the World Curling Federation.
Curling was introduced as an Olympic sport at the Nagano Winter Olympics in 1998.
The Cedarburg-based Milwaukee Curling Club was formed in 1845 and is the oldest curling club in the United States, club president Jim Rasche said. The Wauwatosa Curling Club is celebrating its 100th anniversary, according to its website.
The curling will be played during the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, February 4-20, where Team Shuster US men’s curling team, which includes Superior’s John Shuster and McFarland’s Matt Hamilton, will defend their gold medal.
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But despite the sport’s longevity, many people don’t know the sport, said Tom Howell, a member of the Kettle Moraine Curling Club in Hartland.
Howell grew up playing the sport in New Jersey, competed and reached the Olympic Trials finals in 2017 and 2021 before his team, Team Dropkin, lost to Team Shuster twice. .
Howell, who is a member of the reigning national champion curling team, plans to help his team defend their title at the national championships Jan. 2-9 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Howell, 27, said he and his team could also try to qualify for the 2026 Winter Olympics.
Another objective: to help promote sport.
“Like a game of shuffleboard on ice crossed with chess on ice”
Although he is an accomplished player, he finds it difficult to describe the sport.
“It’s a lot harder than it looks,” he said. “I’m saying it’s like a crossover ice shuffleboard game with ice chess. You use a lot of small muscle groups.”
Each of the four players on a team (first, second, vice and captain) take turns sliding a 44-pound granite weight (the stone) on a patch of ice to a target area of ââfour circles concentric. A traditional curling match lasts 10 ends, or turns.
Only one team can score points per end. The team whose stone is closest to the center of the target gets the point; additional points are awarded to the team which scores based on the positions of the stones in relation to the best position of the opponent’s stones.
During the Olympics, you may notice a flash of LED light on the stone, which indicates that the stone has been dropped after the hog line. Competitors who cross the line are disqualified from the match.
Link with opponents
Howell said that one thing people might not know about curling is how friendly it is. More than in any other sport, it is natural for a curling team to bond with their competitor, he said.
âWith curling, when you’re playing it’s natural to sit down and talk with the other team. I’ve played basketball, soccer, and basketball, and you don’t know your opponents as well. You don’t know them outside of sport. said Howell, who lives in Shorewood and is a graduate of Marquette University.
âI think people don’t know about the social aspect of sport,â he said.
In most leagues and tournaments, it is customary for the two competing teams to have a drink or gather around a long table. But Howell admitted that when the sport becomes more competitive – like during the Olympics and its trials – that tradition isn’t as respected.
Even then, however, Rasche said that every game, across the board, begins and ends with both teams saying “Good curling” and giving the other team a firm handshake.
Winners often buy losers a drink, he added.
âIt’s all about sportsmanship, and there is no showboating,â said Rasche.
“A sport for ages 6 to 96”
Craig Sharkus, owner of the Kettle Moraine Curling Club-based Rock on Curling supply store, said people can learn the sport at almost any age and can play for life.
âIt’s a sport for ages 6 to 96,â he said. Sharkus, who has been playing the sport for 44 years, said children as young as 4 or 5 can start learning the sport, or people can play it as adults.
“It’s a sport that lasts a lifetime,” he said. He said he regularly sees club members who play until they are 90.
Rasche said that at the Milwaukee Curling Club there are members in their 80s who come regularly.
âCurling is not a 16-year-old sport. There is a lot more longevity,â said Howell, adding that many Olympians are between 20 and 30 years old.
An appealing quality of the game is that it requires little specialized equipment. Players can curl in tennis shoes, simply sliding rubbers over their shoes for more traction on the ice.
The curling club itself provides the stones, brooms and all other equipment.
âIt’s easy to get started,â Sharkus said. “It’s a non-physical sport, and it’s all about finesse.”
Curling is also easily adapted for people with disabilities, as one can still curl with walking aids or a wheelchair, Sharkus said. Because it is a non-contact sport, it is easy to play it recreationally. Wheelchair curling became a Paralympic sport in Turin in 2006.
Easy to learn
Curling is also easy to learn.
Michael Crowley of Waukesha tried curling after a work-related reunion at the Milwaukee Curling Club. After the meeting, he was asked if he wanted to try curling.
He admits he might not be the best prepared to try out a sport as he was wearing a suit and tie and dress shoes. But he did and was impressed.
âI looked at a few people and copied them,â he said. âYou have to have a delicate touch. I did quite well. It’s relaxing, it takes patience, persistence and a keen sense of distance and speed.
âI saw people playing there in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. It’s a sport you can play your whole life with and be social with. It brings people together.”
âThis may be the next wave of bowling,â he added. According to him, curling would gain in popularity if the clubs were as widespread as the bowling alleys.
âIf I run out of money it would be phenomenal to invest one. Waukesha needs something like this. It seems like an easy sport to learn, and it’s a fun, non-stressful event,â he said. -he declares.
An amateur sport
While many people enjoy curling, it is still strictly an amateur sport. There aren’t any college scholarships or professional teams where you get paid just to play, at least not in the United States, Howell said.
The sport consists mainly of leagues, invitational tournaments and competitive tournaments called bonspiels.
Howell said there is a national team and a world curling tour that are very competitive. Being on the national team takes a little luck and depends on the performance of your team. It helps if your team is funded, he added.
Rasche said other countries have professional teams, but not the United States. “We have volunteers. We (at the Milwaukee Curling Club) have a great group of volunteers. But we don’t have a professional team, but the United States won gold (at the 2018 Olympics),” did he declare. “It’s a great sport … one of the best.”
Learn to buckle
The Milwaukee Curling Club is running a Learn to Curl series for a two-hour session for $ 30. The dates and times to come are from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on December 31; 1 to 3 p.m., 4 to 6 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. January 1 and 1 to 3 p.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. January 2.
To register, visit milwaukeecurlingclub.com.
Wauwatosa offers free learn curling sessions, but the next scheduled ones are full. To see the schedule of upcoming events, visit wauwatosacurlingclub.com.
The Racine Curling Club also offers a Learn to Curl series. For an updated schedule, visit racinecurlingclub.com.
The Wauwatosa Curling Club offers adapted curling sessions designed for people who require accommodation. It offers free adapted curling from 11 a.m. to noon. January 8. To register, visit bit.ly/adaptivecurling.