CURLING

Olympic winter sport has taken hold in the Copper Country

 

Through fundraising efforts and grants, the Copper Country Curling Club has turned the historic Drill House in Calumet into the perfect venue for its sport. (Photo courtesy of the CCCC)

By Deborah Frontiera

If you’ve never heard of the sport of curling, you are not alone, but the sport dates back to 16th century Scotland, where it was played on frozen lakes and ponds using channel stones. Scottish immigrants brought the game to Canada and the U.S. in the early 1800s. It has been gaining popularity in the Copper Country since the Copper Country Curling Club (CCCC) was formed in 1993.
The modern game is well presented by a video on the club’s website cccurlingclub.com and is described as “chess on ice.” This writer sees it more like Bocce Ball with 42 pound balls.
Two teams of four players each slide smooth stones toward a target circle. Players on each team alternate until all the stones have been thrown. The team with stones closest to the center of the target gains points.
While some team members aim to score, others aim to knock the opponents’ stones away from the target. The last person on each team is designated the “skip” and has the job of reading the ice and the curl of the stone. “Skip” sends the “hammer” stone last to score or knock out other stones.
Once one player launches a stone, two others, “sweepers,” brush the ice in front of the sliding stone to reduce friction. Good sweepers can enhance a stone’s slide by as much as 15 feet. There are other rules, and some degree of physical strength and skill are necessary in all players.
Club president Gary Lassila said that all the highly polished stones come from one quarry located on an island off the coast of Scotland, and a set of stones costs about $6,000.
Why all from one quarry? As the stones slide and crash into each other, granite from other places tends to break apart. It seems that the temperature and pressure under which the granite in the “Ailsa Craig” in Scotland originally formed deep in the earth stands up to the game the best. The quarry is mined only every seven to 10 years for enough to manufacture curling stores to last until the next quarrying.
The CCCC first played in the Lake Linden Ice Arena, which it shared with local hockey teams and skating groups. The Lake Linden facility closed in 1997 and the club spent the next several years without a home. Following the 2002 Winter Olympics, popularity grew and the group was able to play in Dee Stadium on Saturday nights. Finally, in 2005-2006, the CCCC moved into the old Drill House in Calumet.
Originally built in 1885 by the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company as a place to manufacture and maintain mining drills used, the Drill House became part of the Keweenaw National Historical Park. KNHP wanted the building to be used, but keep its original historic value. They considered curling the ideal use for the building since no major modifications needed to be made internally or externally.
According to the group’s website, Paul Lehto and Steve Woodworth were the primary shakers in getting the project off the ground. Calumet Township officials were instrumental in helping convert the building for use by the sport, basically saying to come on in!
Dirt floors were leveled, and the club had enough on hand for a small “warm room.” Gary described it as “a phone booth”—barely 10 by 12 feet. In 2015, the club began a Patronicity crowd funding campaign and raised $33,005. This was matched with $32,000 in a grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s “Public Spaces Community Places” program.
It allowed for two improved sheets of ice, locker rooms, concessions, social area, raised viewing, and storage. The grant also provided funds for new electrical wiring, lighting, and heating, a large—warm—community room for all users, handicap-accessible entrance and bathroom, and cement covering the original dirt floor from the entrance to the Community Room. The grant paid for all materials, but the labor force was local and volunteer.
Where the old “warm room” could only hold six to 10 people, the new community room allows for many more, so players tend to stay after games and socialize. Last year the club had around 50 members, and that increased to over 60 this season.
The fact that the USA Men’s Curling team won the 2018 Winter Olympics has been huge for new interest in the sport. Lassila emphasized that compared to other sports, a player doesn’t have to be exceptionally tall or big and people can participate much later in life than most sports, some into their 70s, with the “average Joe and Jane” able to have fun and excel. It’s great exercise too. Gary estimates that most players walk over a mile during a typical game.

A historic photo of the Drill House in Calumet when it was used for its original purpose of maintaining mine drilling equipment.

At this point, the ice at the Drill House is all natural, dependent on the weather. They begin building the ice at the end of November, can begin to curl in December, and leagues form at the beginning of January, running until around the end of March. But if the temps rise into the 30s in the building, curling is halted until it cools down.
At the Copper Country facility, Tuesdays and Thursdays are league nights. While these leagues are competitive, they are mostly for fun. Wednesdays are “learn to curl” nights for beginners of any age. Groups rent the facility for two-hour sessions: churches, businesses and community groups. On Saturdays, doubles teams can compete. The Calumet schools’ gym teachers bring over grades seven, eight, and nine to introduce them to the sport.
The club would like to host a curling tournament, called a bonspiel, and name their tournament the “Copperspiel.” Clubs in Wisconsin and Minnesota are interested, possibly next year. They also hope other U.P. communities will develop clubs, as the closest at this point is Green Bay.
Other long-range goals include making the facility year-round with ice for hockey and youth curling leagues, and adding batting cages for baseball and softball. There would even be room at the Drill House for other amenities like regulation horseshoe pits and bocce ball.
For more information about the CCCC, how to form a local group, and more, visit cccurlingclub.com, search for their group’s Facebook page, or email: thecoppercountrycurlingclub-@gmail.com

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