Curling gets more popularby Bob Reha, Minnesota Public Radio
Officials in Bemidji are planning events to honor members of the U.S. curling team. The bronze medal winners are being heralded as heros in Minnesota. The success of the team is being credited with sparking new interest in the sport.
Fargo, N.D. — It's un usually quiet at the Fargo-Moorhead Curling Club. Steve Pickle wears a couple different hats at the club. He's president of it... but also has to get the ice sheets ready for play. Today, it's for the women's league. Pickle says the club held an open house over the weekend, and the attendance was outstanding.
"Sunday alone, we had over 100 people that showed up," said Pickle. "We tried to accommodate them as best we could, but I know there were some people who turned and went out the door because they didn't know if they would be able to get on the ice. (It was) just a great great response."
Pickle believes television coverage of curling during the Olympics is partly responsible for the popularity of the sport. He says membership at the Fargo-Moorhead club has grown from 80 to 200 members in the past four years. 2002 is when curling became a full-medal Olympic sport.
Other clubs in the region report similar interest. Scott Belvitsch is manager of the St. Paul Curling Club, the largest member-owned club in the United States. Belvitsch says the club has more than a 1,100 members. He says the club has so many people it makes scheduling matches difficult.
"We are actually going to be doing a spring league this year, which will be new for us," said Belwitsch. "We'll have the club open and the ice in probably into the first week of June. Believe it or not, we're in uncharted territory there, but we're looking forward to seeing what the results are."
Neither Belvitsch or Steve Pickle expects to retain all their new members. They think about 60 percent will stay with the sport. Their hope is that the recent buzz about curling will attract younger players. One way is to interest kids in the sport.
Bob Fenson, of Bemidji is the coach of the Olympic team. In all, five Bemidji residents made the U.S. men's and women's curling teams. Fenson says Bemidji has a good program to recruit kids into the sport.
"Bemidji is a unique spot because we have a high school class and we put 300 kids a year through our curling program," said Fenson. "Every year we have a community education course and we get a lot of members out of that."
Christina Schwartz gets some practice on the ice. Schwartz, a student at North Dakota State University and a Hibbing native is preparing for an upcoming tournament. In curling terms, Schwartz is throwing a few rocks.
For Schwartz curling is more than a sport, it's about family. She started playing when she was 8 years old. Schwartz says no matter where you go to play, people are friendly. It's like being a part of a big family.
"Everybody's kind of connected with curling, they all know exactly what you're about and you know what they're about and it kind of connects you," Schwartz said. "It was a way to be with my family after school, that was a big part of it, gosh everything. Once you play the game you know how addicting it can be."
The 20-year-old Schwartz is a relative newcomer to the game. Her 12-year career is miniscule compared to Carolyn Nelson. Nelson is a two-time national champion. She's been curling for 50 years. Nelson is happy to see younger players in the game. She says the success of the U.S. Team at the Olympics is great for the sport.
"It makes me feel proud that I'm a part of curling," Nelson said. "Bringing other people into the sport too when they see this I think, it just makes me real proud."
Members of the Fargo-Moorhead Curling Club have started to raise money for a bigger club. They're goal is to raise $1.2 million. Club President Steve Pickle is optimistic they'll reach the goal.
The U.S. Curling team beat the odds to bring home even a bronze medal. Now, for their sport and for regional curling clubs, the results may be pure gold.
- All Things Considered, 03/01/2006, 5:53 p.m.