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Curling now a stone-cold growth sport

WILLMAR -- In its fifth year, the Willmar Curling Club is "maxing" out.

Civic Center manager Kevin Madsen said the co-ed league has grown to 20 teams. That fills the five sheets for two sessions. Adding teams would mean adding a third 90-minute session.

The club is looking forward to hosting the Minnesota High School Bonspiel on March 13-14.

The tournament is sponsored by the Minnesota Curling Association with the blessing of the Minnesota State High School League.

"The winner can call itself the state high school champion," Madsen said.

Seven communities will be sending 10 teams, including a boys team and a girls team from Willmar.

The others are Mapleton, Duluth, Bemidji, Mankato, Eveleth and Owatonna.

"Mapleton is an Irish settlement that has one of the oldest curling clubs in Minnesota," said Curling Club president Troy Gorans. "The high school league sponsored the sport for a time back in the early 1970s but it faded in interest."

Gorans said this will be maybe the first time the high school bonspiel has been held in an arena, rather than at a curling club. But arenas are becoming curling havens as its popularity spreads.

Curlers say Willmar has some of the best ice around. They credit Madsen's attendance at the 2008 World Curling Championships at Grand Forks, N.D. as a member of an ice crew.

He learned some of the secrets there are of making perfectly-level ice and the art of pebbling. Spraying water lightly with a hose gives texture to the ice and accelerates the rocks.

Last Saturday evening's open curling drew 42 people, perhaps indicating once a week the mix of socializing, skill test and light physical activity isn't enough.

Also, local teams have the option each weekend of signing up for bonspiels around the region.