By Ruth erickson
The Rice Lake Curling Club is celebrating its 50th year with an open house and 50th Anniversary kick-off spiel this Friday-Sunday, Sept. 23-25 at the club building located at 912 S. Wisconsin Ave.
The open house is Saturday from 3-7 p.m., when the community is invited to stop by and watch curling in action, enjoy some hospitality, stir up some memories or make some new ones.
The spiel begins Friday and continues through Sunday. One sheet of ice will be open for those up for a try or a refresher.
For sale will be 50th Anniversary glasses, clothing and pins.
Anniversary Committee members are Steve Swoboda, Patti Fox, Kathy Ricci, Randy Bina, Rob Berger, Mark Turner, Phil Henkel, Bill Wiberg, Sydney Schieffer, Roger Martin and Larry Sharp.
“We want people to come and see what we’re all about,” said Ricci.
“And feel the energy,” added Fox.
“And the hospitality,” put in Bina. “These are people I never would have met at any other place.”
“If you are new to the area, or even if you are not, this is a great place to meet people,” said Ricci.
“And involve the whole family,” added Fox.
“It’s the greatest sport,” said Bill Kind. “It’s based on mixed curling and that’s been a great draw. It’s more fun than going to the gym to exercise.”
“It’s one of the great social events in town,” agreed Larry Sharp.
The Rice Lake Curling Club is one of 27 clubs in Wisconsin and the fourth largest in the state. Only Madison, Wausau and Eau Claire are larger in membership. The Rice Lake club currently has about 230 members and has one of the largest female memberships in the state.
Curlers take only 4 months off a year—April through July, then gear up for a new year with an early August camp out. Next year will be the 40th year of the camp outs, which are at different sites and have been as large as 150 members, but which typically attract eight to 10 families.
A 32-team summer spiel in mid-August gets teams warmed up for the start of the regular season.
To boost membership, the club annually offers a free series of evening classes in the fall for those interested in learning about the sport and trying their hand on the ice. All equipment is available at no cost at the fall class series, which begins Monday, Oct. 4 and is offered each Monday and Thursday at 6 p.m. for 3 weeks.
During the regular season, action at the club takes place 6 of 7 nights a week, starting the last week of November and going to the end of March.
Sunday and Monday nights are for the men’s leagues. Tuesday and Friday nights are open league for any combination of players. Wednesday night is a mixed league, and Thursday night is women’s league. A youth league takes place Fridays after school, January through March.
In addition, open curling practice is offered Thursdays from 10 a.m. to noon, which includes doughnuts and coffee.
“Beginners are welcome to try it at no cost,” Kind said.
Rock solid group
Curling is one of the world’s oldest team sports, originating in 16th century Scotland on frozen ponds and lochs. Today there are an estimated 1.5 million curlers worldwide and 16,500 curlers in the United States.
The sport features two teams of four players each. Each player takes turns sliding polished granite stones called rocks on a sheet of ice toward a target area, which is segmented into four concentric circles. Points are scored for stones that come to a rest closest to the center of the target or house.
A curler can make the stone follow a curling path by turning the handle on the stone slightly upon releasing it. The path of the rock can be further influenced by two sweepers with brooms who accompany it down the ice sheet to their desired end point.
Charter members of the Rice Lake Curling Club include Chuck and Shirley Boe, Darwin “Dish” and Ann Destache, Ed and Marion Olund, Bud and Helen Gillespie, Herb and Eunice Johnston, Jim and Barb Stroffregen, Ron and Betty Mousel, Darwin and June Kuhrt, Larry and Bev Schmalz, Dick and Carol Scheurer, Pete and Jane Sirianni, Clarence and Florence Selzler, Bruce and Char Larson, Don and Doris Triebensee, Rus and Mary Hagen, Jim and Carol Sevals, John Marcon, Tom and Jill Keefer John and Marge Hoyer, William and Jan Elbert, Bill and Barb Burdick, Don Werner, Morrie Osterbauer, Jim Dorrance, Gary Taubman, James Ryan and Doug McManus.
Today’s members range in age from 10 to the mid-80s. While physical condition can be beneficial to those playing at a high level, curling is a sport that can be enjoyed by those of all fitness levels.
Sharp said it also offers all levels of competition, and he has competed four times in senior national competitions and twice in senior international competitions.
“We have the best old curlers in the state,” joked Kind.
Curlers often hear non-curlers express intrigue about the sport after watching television coverage of the Winter Olympics. What few realize is that there is a premier facility to curl and premier teachers who enjoy instructing right in their own backyard.
The local facility features four sheets of ice as playing surfaces, a climate-controlled viewing area where visitors are welcome to watch, a full kitchen and bar.
In 2001, the local curling club was used as an Olympic training camp. It has since been moved to a new facility in Blaine, Minnesota.
In addition, many youth-oriented groups have used the building at no charge.
Sharp said the club building has been a model in the state as at least nine other clubs, of the 27 clubs currently active, have used their plan.
Longtime local curlers have not always had such a great facility and equipment. Back in 1967, the Rice Lake Curling Club began in a cattle barn at the Barron County Fairgrounds. Two sheets of ice were formed by pouring water between rows of stanchions. All scraping was done by hand.
Although there was a roof over their heads, the condition of the ice depended on the weather, said Larry Sharp, who is still one of the club’s ice keepers. If temperatures rose, their ice turned to water and play had to be halted until the next cold front.
With a goal of getting an ice-making machine, fundraising efforts took place by members all year long. Sharp recalled that some of those were softball tournaments, salad luncheons and the sale of a club cookbook. Finally in 1983, the club went to artificial ice, ensuring more reliable time on the ice.
Longtime members who remember those days said working together on those fundraising activities bonded them and made them a stronger club. Little did the club membership know at the time what an asset that strength would be.
Stronger than fire
Disaster struck on Aug. 1, 1988 when fire destroyed not only their building at the fairgrounds but also their rocks, compressors and club memorabilia.
Then club president Jerry Beguhn called a meeting and asked how many members would still pay their membership dues even if they could not curl that season. Every hand went up. Seeing that commitment, Al Cronk, who worked at Dairy State Bank, was able to secure a loan for the club, and sites for a new club were considered.
Mayor Dave Ousley, a strong supporter of the club, said the city owned some land with a house and unused barn on Wisconsin Avenue. He said the city did not want to be in the landlord business and with council support offered the land to the club. The club found that the site near the gravel pit had great drainage and was a perfect fit for their need. So a deal was made, the renter was given notice, the house and barn were torn down and a ground-breaking took place Sept. 17, just a month and a half after the fire. Construction took place soon after and the 1988-89 season of curling at the new site began Dec. 15.
Sharp said not only did all of the club’s original members volunteer in some way, shape or form, but others in the community lent a hand and in the process the club added about 40 new members.
He said club membership has been holding steady, at between 230-240, ever since.
50th year events
For those interested in the sport but unable to make it to the club’s anniversary kick-off, to follow is a list of upcoming spiels when visitors are welcome to stop by:
• Fun Spiel: Oct.22, designed for new curlers, four end games, equipment available.
• Curl for a Cure: Nov. 11-13, fundraiser for Pink Ribbon Advocacy.
• College Spiel: Dec. 2-4, featuring college teams from across the country.
• Stein Spiel: Jan. 13-15, a mixed spiel for out-of-town teams.
• Rice Lake Open: Feb. 3-5: Open to all out-of-town curlers featuring a combination of men and women.
• Women’s Play Down: March 9-11: An end-of-the-year playoff.
• Men’s Play Down: March 17-19: An end-of-the-year playoff.
• Mixed Play Down: March 22-26: An end-of-the-year with an anniversary photo to be taken at the March 26 banquet.
All interested are welcome to join this member-owned organization. Dues for first- and second-year members are $125. Equipment is provided for the first year.
For more information on the Rice Lake Curling Club or any of its leagues and spiels, go to its website at “www.ricelakecurling.org,” email “RiceLakeCurlingClub@gmail.com” or call 715-234-9812.