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Willmar, Minn., curling officials headed to Switzerland for world competition

Susie and Randy Czarnetzki of Willmar wear their headsets as they officiate a curling match Wednesday at the Blue Line Center in Willmar. The duo will be officiating the World Juniors competition as representatives of the United States next week. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

At the World Junior Curling Championships in Flims, Switzerland, next week, Randy and Susie Czarnetzki will be watching potential future Olympians from the best seat in the house: the ice.

The Czarnetzkis, of Willmar, will be officiating the World Juniors competition as representatives of the United States. They were personally asked to officiate the tournament by the World Curling Federation last summer.

“When I first saw the email inviting us to officiate, I just about came unglued,” Susie said. “We were so honored to be asked. I emailed back right away and said ‘absolutely.’”

The World Juniors competition will pit the best 18-and-under curling teams in the world against each other. As officials, Randy and Susie will be down on the ice, working 13 or 14 games throughout the week, not including playoff games. They will share responsibilities with officials from Canada, Switzerland and several other European countries.

This will be the second world competition that the Czarnetzkis have officiated. They officiated at the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship in St. Paul in 2011.

“It was very exciting,” Susie said. “We got to meet many of the World Curling Federation officials from Europe. It was great networking.”

The Czarnetzkis have also officiated various national competitions through the United States Curling Association, including the U.S. Olympic Curling Trials in Fargo last fall.

It’s an impressive résumé, especially considering that they’ve only been certified curling officials for four years.

Randy and Susie credit part of their quick climb up the officiating ladder to their mentors. Donna Statzell, a well-respected curling official from Eden Prairie, taught their initial certification class, and Herb Kupchik of Boston worked with both of them to help develop their skills. To put that in perspective, Statzell and Kupchik are the only two U.S. curling officials at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

“They have been outstanding mentors,” Randy said. “We’ve been very lucky to have met them and learned from them.”

The other part of the Czarnetzkis’ officiating success comes from their passion of the sport. Both Randy and Susie are active members of the Willmar Curling Club and regularly participate in bonspiels across Minnesota and the Midwest. The couple loves the sport so much that they even had a curling-themed wedding when they exchanged vows in March 2012.

While both Randy and Susie admit that they will probably never be world-level curlers, their experience on the ice makes them even more mindful of the importance of good officiating.

“We take it very seriously. It’s not just a hobby for us,” Susie said. “We know that our actions as officials can have a real impact. We’re aware of the rules and constantly review them. We’re committed to the integrity of the game.”

For Randy, making the switch from player to official comes naturally. He’s been refereeing other sports, including softball, basketball and volleyball, at high school and college levels for 33 years. Compared to those sports, however, curling officials have a less active role in the outcome of the game.

“In most other sports, officials are an active participant in controlling one play to the next,” Randy said. “Curling, as a rule, is largely a self-officiated sport. We’re there to provide knowledge and assistance to the players.”

Though Randy has a long career of officiating sports, it’s Susie who has completed the practical experience necessary to be chief umpire (similar to head referee) of a tournament. According to the USCA officiating levels, Susie has reached Level III status, while Randy, who hasn’t officiated as many tournaments because of scheduling conflicts, is a Level II status.

Both of them, however, look forward to growing their skills as officials and continuing to officiate national and world tournaments. The curling community is tight-knit, even internationally, and it’s possible that the World Juniors competition could lead to even more opportunities for the couple. Like their mentors Statzell and Kupchik, it’s not a stretch to think that Randy and Susie could even be officiating Olympic curling one day.

“It’s not on our radar right now, but if that happens, we would be honored and pleased,” Susie said. “It’s not one of our goals, though. The World Curling Federation is where our focus is right now, and doing more USCA events.”

For the moment, they’re staying focused on their trip to Switzerland. With less than a week to go until the competition starts Wednesday, they’re feeling calm and ready — and maybe just a little nervous.

“I’m anxious because I’ve never seen the facility before,” Susie said. “But as far as our abilities on the ice go, I’m not nervous. Just really excited.”

“As the stage gets bigger, there’s definitely some nervous excitement,” Randy said. “The first time out there on the ice, I’ll probably be pretty amped.”

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

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