Mac written all over it: Curling awaits student interest

By Josh Springer

The recent dissemination of media and interest in alternative, lesser-known sports like dodgeball, competitive eating, and parkour makes absolutely necessary the recognition of one of Minnesota’s most cherished, and gravely underrepresented pastimes: curling. Picturing a peculiar blend of bocce, bowling, and chess helps one unfamiliar with the sport to visualize people sliding 44 lb granite stones down a rectangular ice rink.Curling was conceived in Scotland in the 16th century. The Scots would toss large, uneven stones across frozen lakes and rivers. Since then the game has dramatically developed in locations for play and equipment. By and large, curling is done indoors on smooth ice that is sprinkled with warm water or pebbled. This manicured surfaced is diligently cared for before and after games.

The preoccupation with pristine ice conditions relates directly to the act of “curling” or curving the stone as it is thrown towards the target. The evolution of the game has led to higher scoring, more complex strategies, and as a result, increased popularity.

Today, curling is widely appreciated in the international community, especially in Canada and Central Europe. The United States has yet to fully jump on the bandwagon. In the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, the Bemidji Curling Club hailing from rural northern Minnesota took home a bronze metal. The team’s success helped to heighten interest both locally and nationally. More and more Americans are discovering curling every year.

The most skillful and triumphant players do not require physical attributes such as unlimited strength or agility, but rather great nerves and mental toughness. The highly strategic nature of curling has brought about its alternative name, “chess on ice.”

However, the chess comparison remains mostly inadequate in the grander scheme of the game. For the sake of a more complete metaphor, imagine a life-size game of chess where the other team can disrupt, if not entirely displace your own pieces.

“Think of learning chess, but actually having to shove the pieces where you want them,” Maggie Shaklee ’11 said.

Strategically, curling is known for the extreme degree of precision and accuracy required for every successful throw. Calculating the proper stone placement in reaction to an opponent’s strategy is key. The “skipper,” or team captain, is in charge of devising a strategy and seeing that his or her teammates carefully follow the plan.

Here at Macalester, amid our diverse community, curling is neither ignored nor absent. Our own Director of Safety and Security Terry Gorman, has been a devoted curler since he first started playing seven years ago. After encouragement from friends and a beginner’s class, Gorman found himself enamored of the sport.

“[Initially] it can be like watching paint dry,” Gorman said. “But once you understand the game it can be as exciting as any sport.”

Typically, Gorman plays two days a week for two different teams. On one, he plays under a skipper who has curled for over 30 years. On the other, he skips the team himself and enjoys the all too essential role of sweeping. “Sweeping is great on the aerobic side,” Gorman said.

Enthusiasts of all ages are attracted to curling for many reasons. “In the winter here in Minnesota, a lot of people ask ‘what am I going do,'” Gorman said.

Besides searching for a bearable seasonable activity, however, the clearest appeal for the masses is curling’s timelessness and lifelong accessibility. “There is so much finesse and less focus on athletic ability,” Gorman said.

For Shaklee, curling was a fun idea introduced by friends, who ironically lost interest not long after she fall for the sport. Attending one of the 15 or so high schools in Wisconsin that offered curling as a varsity sport provided her with a platform for cultivating this new interest.

Shaklee developed her hobby to the point that she has invited to teach friends from school the sport. After playing competitively with a successful high school team, a more relaxed ambiance in college has been only satisfactory.

The sociable character of curling, most importantly, helps to define the sport as one of the winter season’s more cordial and communal activities. “It’s mostly social, revolving around food and beer,” Shaklee said. The ease of cooling the kegs on the ice seems only fitting given the jovial environment before, during, and after a match. “While the losers clean the ice, the winners buy the beer,” Shaklee said.

Curling is one of only a few sports where the winners treat the losing team to cool alcoholic beverages.

The “spirit of curling” embodies the friendly and passionate nature of the game on a social and competitive level. Curlers never heckle their opponents, nor do they cheer when a team makes a poor throw. Such aggressive behavior is not only absent from the game but frowned upon. A curling culture, if at all definable, exemplifies humility and honor.

Curling emphasizes the importance of sportsmanship and fair play more than any other competitive sport, whether it is being played recreationally or professionally. Identical to local club matches, international competition tends to be officiated by the players themselves. If a sweeper “burns the rock,” or in other words, touches the stone with their broom, they are responsible for calling the fault.

“We guilt people into playing fair,” Shaklee said. It seems clear, moreover, that no curler, regardless of interest or skill, would be recruited to play if they were a bad sport.

Contrary to typical sports terminology, the arena where curling is played is known as the “ice” while the team of five is called the “rink.” Referring to the “ice rink” in casual hockey terms is enough to make avid curlers smile. Such are the witty quirks and details of curling that most, myself included, have yet to understand or fully appreciate.

There exists an expansive range of curling terminology that allows an expert to baffle anyone unfamiliar with the sport.

The Saint Paul Curling Club is the largest in the country and is located just over three miles from campus on Selby Avenue. As a frequent attendee and club member, Gorman enthusiastically encourages Macalester students to investigate it themselves.

“Curling’s got Macalester written all over it.” Gorman said.

“Macalester would love curling cause it’s such a geek sport,” Shaklee said ardently. “It would be neat to have a college club team.”

Gorman expressed interest in coaching a team here at Mac, but followed this idea conceding that his administrative job is too busy. Nonetheless, with enough interest from students, the realization of a club team could be possible.

It is hard to imagine an alternative sport as unusual, and at the same time, as intriguing that could fit Macalester any better. The Scottish heritage in combination with a fundamentally egalitarian nature, gender equality, genuine sportsmanship, beer drinking and, of course, the enjoyment of watching close friends fall on the ice, all prove a surprisingly perfect Macalester match.