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Willmar notebook: Curling finds a Home in Willmar

I don’t know much about curling but I’ve come to admire the competitors and this game they play.

The USA Curling Mixed National Championship has provided the chance to see the upper-class athletes in the uncommon sport.

The ancient Scottish game has been called “chess on ice.” There are also elements of billiards, bowling and a bit of skating, though in street shoes.

The physical grace of delivering the stone is usually followed by furious scrubbing by two escorts with long-handled brushes, like agitated street sweepers.

The 42-pound rock glides in slowly on the exquisitely prepared sheet; given enough of this special ice the granite orb might continue down to Blomkest so unimpeded is their progress by friction on the pebbled surface.

The ice sheet is 150 feet overall but the business part is closer to the distance from home plate to first. The rock must be delivered each time with the precision of a dental implant if you are to be a championship contender.

The eight-day event, hosted by the Willmar Curling Club, concludes today with the championship and third place draw at 1 p.m. Admission is free with plenty of seating, both in the enclosed balcony and on the Blue Line Arena ice. The RV show is next door in the Cardinal Arena.

Paul Badgero, 65, of Ferndale, Michigan, is the chief official. He’s a member of the Detroit Curling Club, which dates itself to 1885.

He was an official at this event in 2010 at Chicago and has worked the Women’s Nationals, plus many regional playdowns.

He had kind words for the Willmar effort.

“They’ve done a great job,” he said. “Most of these events are in dedicated curling clubs but (USA curling icemaker) Dave (Staveteig) came in and we have beautiful ice.

“The athletes have had good things to say. It’s clear the club members have gone all out. They’ve done a tremendous job with getting the arena ready.”

Badgero suggested to the club that they apply for another national event, perhaps in 4 or 5 years.

The curling club prepared a fine, informative program and a daily update is provided. The club’s website posts live updates of the daily draws.

Cameras are hung from the ceilings over each set of blue and red rings and wired to monitors in the second-floor viewing area where the timers are.

Staveteig, a Red River Valley farmer, oversaw the build-up of the four ice sheets which were painted white and decals and targets (the Home) added.

Club president Matt Proehl related an email received from a USA Curling regional official. She had heard from Team California who compared the ice to that seen at the Worlds.

Many of the four-person teams have mentioned the warm hospitality. No surprise that Willmar has welcomed the visitors from both coasts, as well as the border states — it’s nice to have company, especially in winter and particularly in March when there is little reason to spend time at an outpost on the edge of the prairie.

It will be interesting to note if today’s championship draws a crowd. The travel show next door could help pull in the curious.

Whatever, curling at this level is fascinating to observe; now if they could just do something to make those yellow/red scoreboards understandable.

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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