Romancing the Stone

The Sport of Curling


Joerg Droll, photos by Bob Good

Remember when watching curling on TV was just as potent a sleeping pill as Ambien? Well, those days are over, as curling has made a huge leap in popularity and a new, younger crowd is taking to the ice.

Let’s start with a bit of history. The oldest curling stone, dated 1511, was discovered when dredging a pond near Dunblane in Scotland, and this stone was, by far, not the earliest evidence of the icy sport in the Scottish high- or lowlands. The first mention of curling in records and paintings go back to the 1400s. In those days, hardy Scotsmen slid rounded river rocks across frozen lochs and marshes and probably used the sport as a cheap excuse to drink copious amounts of mead and whisky. 

The first official curling club was formed in Kilsyth, Scotland, in 1716 and still exists today. And just as how the Germans brought their “Kegeln” (or bowling) to the New World, Scottish immigrants brought curling first to Canada around 1760, then to the U.S. in the early 1800s. The first organized curlers started appearing in American clubs by the mid-1800s, concentrating on the immigration centers of New York, Detroit and Milwaukee, and soon anywhere in the northern part of the country where climatic conditions made ice abundant. 

Today there are over 160 curling clubs in the U.S., with more than 16,000 curlers registered with the United States Curling Association. To no surprise, the highest concentration of curlers is found in Wisconsin (4,000) followed closely by Minnesota (3,500). 

The Seven Rivers Region has two curling clubs, one in La Crosse and one in Centerville. Both have long histories in the area, dating back to the 1920s and 1930s, and both are very engaged in bringing their sport to as many people as possible. The La Crosse Curling Club (LCC) regularly hosts 120 curlers at the Green Island Ice Arena.

Sporting 300 active members, the Centerville Curling Club (CCC) has a long tradition in the Centerville/Galesville area (which may also account for its higher membership numbers). Even before the now defunct Galesville Curling Club was founded in the 1860s, folks from the area curled on the ponds in the bottoms of the Black River and on Galesville’s Lake Marinuka. After nearly 150 years, the Galesville Curling Club closed its doors in 2005 and many of the Galesville curlers continued their sport in Centerville.

The CCC was founded in 1947, and the members played in an open-sided pole shed on natural ice using their own stones and kitchen brooms for sweeping. In 1960, an unheated clubroom was built and artificial ice was introduced to the club building. By 1996, the CCC had outgrown its first building and the current building was constructed as part of the Trempealeau County Community Center. After a few additions, the club still inhabits this structure and has curling events pretty much every day of the week from November through March. The new CCC has an arena devoted solely to curling and sports four playing fields, called “sheets,” of international competition standard ice, artificially cooled and maintained by a dedicated ice keeper.

“After a solid 15 percent rise in membership last year,” says Dan Lilla, the CCC’s secretary of treasury, “we are seriously thinking about setting up more leagues and events.”

Right now, there are men’s leagues, women’s leagues, mixed leagues, senior leagues and youth leagues. The CCC holds clinics for beginners, kids, middle- and high schoolers. All these efforts seem to bear athletic fruit as, over the years, curlers from both the LCC and CCC have competed in state and national championships, with one local curler, Mike Peplinski, even earning a place on the U.S. Olympic team for the 1998 Olympics in Japan.

But you don’t have to be an Olympian to enjoy curling. As musician and second year curler Mike Munson puts it, “I started curling with my buddies from the Winona Food Co-op [Bluff Country Co-op] last year. We tried to play in the leagues, but got our butts kicked.”

And this is where one of the most interesting aspects for beginning CCC curlers kicks in: the “1–5 league,” matching curlers who have been active for one to five years. The emphasis is on fun and learning, not competition. “We want to get as many people interested in curling as we can,” says Dan Lilla, an active curler for 45 years. “Our doors are always open, so come check us out. And if you want to try curling yourself, we will find a way for you to get on the ice.”

More info below.

Etiquette

  • Start/finish: Begin and end each game with a handshake “good curling” or “good game”.
  • Good/bad shots: Curlers compliment opponent’s good shots and never mock bad shots or misfortune.
  • Distractions: No distracting movements or noises when opponent is about to curl.
  • Expedite: Keep the game moving by being ready as soon as opponent has delivered his/her stone.
  • Scoring: The vice skips determine the score. Do not touch stones before this is completed.
  • Ice: Keep ice clean. Do not wear shoes worn outside.

Basic rules

  • Team: Four players - Skipper (Skip) calls the shots Each player delivers two stones in each end, alternating with the opponent
  • Scoring: One point for each stone in or touching the house (target area) closer to the tee (bull's eye) than any opponents stone
  • Stones: Approx. 40 lbs of granite, ring shaped running surface
  • Delivery: Stone must be clearly released before touching the hog line A stone that touches the sideboard, sideline or crosses the backline is taken out of play
  • Equipment: Curling shoes with gripper or sneakers with sliding attachment; broom, gloves
  • Competition: Generally 10 ends make up one match. In club play matches can be shortened to 8 ends

Cost (Centerville Curling Club)

  • New Curlers: Full season, $100
  • Men: Full season, $225 (prepay $175), ½ season $112.50
  • Women: Full season, $150 (prepay $ 100), ½ season $100
  • Mixed League: $150 (prepay $100)

Click >> Centerville Curling Club Info

Click >> La Crosse Curling Club Info

Check out Centerville-area restaurants below.

Joerg Droll  author

Joerg Droll is a freelance writer from Germany. Prior to moving to the United States, he spent 20 years at various men’s lifestyle publications working his way up from intern to managing editor at the German editions of magazines like Playboy, Men’s Health, GQ and MAXIM.