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Curling Heats Up In Fort Wayne

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Marney Carmichael
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In 2006, while watching the Turin Winter Olympics on TV, Craig Fischer and his wife Jerri Mead became fascinated with the sport of curling. The couple was in search of an activity they could participate in with their Autistic son Grayson, who was 12 years old at the time.

Six Sundays in a row they drove to a curling club in Bowling Green, Ohio. They were hooked, but they realized they could not do this every weekend. Wouldn’t it be great to open a curling club in Fort Wayne, they thought?

It wasn’t until 2010 that their dream came to fruition, with a lot of dedication, some key contacts and keen local curlers and Club co-founders – Dr. Greg Eigner, who competed in the 2005 Olympic trials, and Dan McCoy, who managed the club’s Facebook page.

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Credit Marney Carmichael
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For four years the club curled out of the ice rink at Lutheran Health Sports Center. This meant late-night ice time and curling on ice groomed for skating and hockey, not the same as on a ‘sheet’ of curling ice, says Fischer, explaining that the stone – commonly called a rock in North America - does not properly curl, or maneuver, on hockey ice.

The Fort Wayne Curling Club opened to members in June of 2010, with equipment purchased from a club in Minnesota. It held its first bonspiel (curling tournament) in August of that year, attracting 40 teams from around the U.S. But Fischer likes to say that the Club was “re-established” that year. Curling in Allen County dates back to the 1800s, when Scottish tradesmen who had worked on the hand-carved sandstone of Bass Mansion at the University of Saint Francis, curled on Mirror Lake. There are also ties to curling on a local rink in the 1920s.

The sport of curling has its roots in 16th century Scotland. It was first played on frozen marshes with stones 

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naturally smoothed by the water’s action. (A modern-day curling stone is made of granite and weighs between 38 and 44 lbs; most of the granite is from Scotland and Wales.) While the principal of the game has not altered much, there has been an evolution in the equipment, which includes special brooms for ‘sweeping’ the stones and non-slip shoes. Sweeping alters the rock’s path after it's ‘thrown’, or slid, down the ice. The back and forth action warms the ice, thus reducing friction, which makes the stones go further and reduces the amount that they curl.

A brief explanation of the sport is that two teams of four players alternate ‘throws’ towards a bulls-eye like circular target, called the ‘house’. The object of the game is to have the most stones closest to the center than the opponent after all 16 stones have been thrown. A curling game consists of eight or 10 ‘ends’, similar to an inning, in which both teams get a shot at knocking each other’s stones from the house.

In January 2014, the Fort Wayne Curling Club proudly moved into its own dedicated curling facility, the only one of its kind in the state of Indiana. The club, with three sheets of ice, held Learn to Curl sessions 13 nights in a row during the 2014 Winter Olympics.

“It’s a gentle introduction to the sport,” explains Fischer, of the Learn to Curl sessions. If interested, people can then join the club’s six-week Rookie league.

The volunteer-run (Fischer was president for six years), member-funded club, also offers a Men’s, Mixed Doubles, and Open leagues. Sundays at 3pm it hosts its Special Needs league with much help from an AWS Foundation grant, which covers 100 percent of membership costs of those with a disability, and 90 percent of sibling/family costs. Fridays and Saturdays are reserved for bonspiels and corporate events.

Nevertheless it remains a sport, Fischer admits, which “not a lot of Americans know about”. He’s hopeful that the coming Winter Olympics in 2018 will draw more interested folk.

The truth is, there are misconceptions about curling - that it’s easy, that it’s confusing, or that it’s like shuffleboard on ice. But this is changing, and the sport in growing. “Millennials love it,” says Fischer, “and it’s growing like gangbusters in the U.S.”

The USA Curling Association, the national governing body, whose tagline is ‘Dare to curl’, lists over 165 curling clubs and 20,000 registered curlers in the U.S. It's an organized sport in 60 countries, with the World Curling Federation having just welcomed an additional four member countries, including Saudi Arabia. Curling is so popular in Canada that it draws millions in TV viewers and is considered by many to be a "cool" sport. 

“It’s a lot harder than it looks on TV,” states Fischer. “It has the strategy of chess, the physics of billiards, the physical activity of track, and the frustration of golf. The fact that it is physical, people don’t realize this, it’s addictive – it takes an afternoon to learn, but a lifetime to master.”

Fischer, like many avid curlers, also appreciates the social aspect of the game. “Players congratulate each other,” he explains. “There is a motto that curlers play to win but never to humble their opponents.”

‘It’s not just a league, it’s a culture of friends.” One member, says Fischer, brought six friends on board. “A couple of couples have also met through curling at the Club,” says Fischer, who has curled over the years in a mixed team with his wife. (Perhaps the licensed bar in the curling club helps. ‘Broomstacking’ is the official curling term for post-game socializing, which dates back to outdoor curling when brooms were stacked on the house and players gathered around near a fire to warm up, and drinks amongst players were enjoyed.)

Fischer also speaks of the generational aspect of the sport, pointing out member photos of a few families of curlers. An under-18 US National Championship curler and Club member got her start with her grandparents, and the Club has curlers who are into their eighties.

One avid curler is Bob Leckron, who likes the social aspect of the sport, and travels a couple of times a week  

from Indianapolis. Members are hands-on, they help to mind the bar and maintain the rink temperature and ice quality. There is no Zamboni, like in hockey, but a smaller, more precise, ice scraper run by a “persnickety, dedicated bunch of curlers than manage the ice,” laughs Fischer.

The Fort Wayne Curling Club is located at 3674 N. Wells Street and is open from late September to April. Live streaming can be seen on TESN.

Learn to Curl:

The next Learn to Curl session will be held Wednesday, Dec. 13 at 6:30pm. Cost: $20, 2.5 hours with instruction on delivery of the rock and sweeping, then game play with 3-4 ends. Wear warm, loose fitting clothing and bring gloves and clean, rubber-soled athletic shoes. The Club provides stones, sliders, and brooms for use by new curlers.

Fort Wayne Curling Club live curling on TESN:

https://www.tesn.us/tesn---ft-wayne.html

USA Curling ‘Two-minute guide to curling’:

https://www.teamusa.org/USA-Curling/Media/Two-Minute-Guide-to-Curling

Marney Carmichael is a columnist who writes about recreation and leisure in Northeast Indiana. She is a Canadian writer and journalist and has lived and worked in her native homeland, the US, Australia, Scotland, Egypt and France. She moved to the Midwest in the summer of 2017 with her French-Algerian husband, two global kids and a duo of adopted Cairo cats. 

Opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the staff, management or board of Northeast Indiana Public Radio. If you want to join the conversation, head over to our Facebook page and comment on the post featuring this column.