Members of the Vikingland Curling Club in Alexandria get excited when someone new to curling shows a passion for the sport that they themselves have grown to love over the years.
That’s why Membership Director Jason Rauk was so thrilled when he received a phone call from Alex Heinert in Sioux Falls in the weeks leading up to the 6th annual Runestone Bonspiel March 2-4. Heinert, the director of residence life at the University of Sioux Falls (USF), had three teams of four people that he wanted to sign up for the bonspiel. There just happened to be a catch.
“They said, ‘I have to let you know, we’re not experienced curlers,’” Rauk said.
That was a bit of an understatement. Eleven of them had never even touched a curling rock before.
“I told him, ‘we’re a laid back group here and we’d be happy to have you,’ ” Rauk said. “We’re an educational group. We’re a nonprofit club, and we want to teach people how to curl and let people experience curling.”
That was exactly what Heinert was hoping to hear from Rauk. The interest in curling started to take shape on the USF campus when Heinert was a senior during the 2006 winter Olympics. He and his friends watched the sport with interest and began brainstorming ways that they could play it themselves.
Their options were limited with no curling clubs in Sioux Falls. That forced them to use their imagination.
“We just went to our ice and recreation center in Sioux Falls and tried some different things,” Heinert said. “Frozen milk jugs and things like that. We eventually settled on using five-pound free weights, tossed them in pie pans and spray painted the back sides of them…sort of making our own version of the sport. We’ve done that for the last six years.”
The popularity of their version of curling has only grown on campus during that time. USF hosts its own Olympic games every winter as a way to get students involved. The Christian liberal arts college has around 950 students total and about 500 of those living on campus. Seventy of those students took part in curling during the USF Olympics earlier this year.
Junior Shay Reinke has been competing in the games since she was a freshman. Her team won the silver medal this winter, becoming one of the top three teams that were rewarded by getting to come to Alexandria to compete in their first real bonspiel.
“We love our curling,” Reinke said. “It’s leisurely so you can talk to people, but you’re still competitive. It’s all about technique and just a lot of fun. We love curling at USF.”
That passion grew more from the idea of curling than actually getting on the ice and playing. None of them had even seen a sheet of ice set up for curling like the one they arrived to at the Runestone Community Center on March 2.
“When the kids came in and saw the rink, their eyes got big,” Heinert said. “My eyes got big. This is our first time ever experiencing anything remotely close to this.”
There was a lot to learn in a short amount of time. The first vehicle from Sioux Falls arrived around 4:30 that evening and spent about an hour practicing with members of the Vikingland Curling Club before their first scheduled games at 6 p.m.
It was just the third time that Reinke had been on ice all year. The five-pound plates she and her teammates were used to using have a much different feel than the 40-pound rocks they’d be competing with in a matter of minutes.
“I think the biggest difference is the technique,” Reinke said. “With the weights, we just stay stationary, and you just throw the weight. But this, you’re moving with the weight. It’s a whole different experience.”
It was an experience that Heinert said they would love to do again. They are currently in the process of trying to become an official club on campus. That is the next step in the group’s attempt to get the proper curling equipment.
Their results at the bonspiel were what one would expect. The three teams from Sioux Falls finished 10th, 11th and 12th in the 12-team tournament. Where they finished, though, was never the point of this trip.
“It’s about having fun,” Heinert said. “And for us, it’s kind of a little window of what it would look like if we did have a curling club. We’ve started that process. We have a club president and those things, it just hasn’t been approved yet from the student senate.”
Many Vikingland Curling Club members saw a little of themselves in the students from USF. Rauk said around 60 percent of their current members were first-time curlers when they came to the club. That’s why any time they can share the sport with newcomers, it’s an opportunity they won’t pass up.
“That’s what we do,” Rauk said. “We encourage people to come and just try it out. It’s definitely a sport you can love, and you can do your whole life.”
VIKINGLAND CURLING CLUB
The Vikingland Curling Club in Alexandria was established in 2005 and currently has 68 members ranging from their mid-20s in age to members in their 70s.
The club is a nonprofit group run by volunteers and supported by membership dues, fundraising events, sponsorships and donations. They curl on four sheets of ice at the Runestone Community Center on Wednesday nights from October through early March.
There is a new-curlers’ clinic in early October for those looking to get involved in the sport. Their mission is to teach, develop, promote and encourage the sport of curling through youth and adult programs that lead to local, national and international competition.
For more information, visit www.vikinglandcurling.org or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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