Roarin’ down the ice

It’s time to break out those brooms and dust the old rocks off, as the Minot Curling Club prepares for its 2013-14 season.

For those unfamiliar with the ice sport, there are two teams of four players, each with a particular position. Eight 40-pound rocks are slid by each team in alternating turns down the ice sheet or lane, vying for the best position on the target rings at the opposite end. After throwing their first two stones, the “lead” on each side then grab specialized sweepers which they use to help guide their teams’ remaining throws to victory.

“It’s like golf. It’s easy to play it, it’s just not so easy to be good at it,” joked the curlers’ secretary-treasurer, Mark Hildahl. Also like golf, curling is said to have originated in Scotland, where it was also called “the roaring game” because of the sound the stones make when sliding across the ice.

“No two games are alike,” added Craig Nathan, the club’s president. Along with his wife, Barb, the two longtime curlers enjoy both the social aspects and physical skills the sport requires.

They explained that curlers form a closely-knit community. The Minot club’s 150 or so members make up one of the eight curling groups in the state, soon to increase to nine. “We’re like a big curling family,” Barb said. Among some of the extended relations the Nathans mentioned, they were proud to note that fellow-curler Jon Mielke was recently inducted into the sport’s hall of fame, only the fourth North Dakotan to be so honored.

Whether meeting weekly for the “bonspiel” tourneys or laying stakes for competitive “cashspiel” play, Minot curlers have been meeting at the Commercial I building at the North Dakota State Fairgrounds now for 53 years. Originally, the then-Ward County Fair and Minot Curling Club both shared costs to build the facility. Selling back their share of the building, the curling club now leases it for six months of the year.

The next six months are coming up quickly, and the club is putting some renovative work into their area in preparation for their open house week mid-November. Already started, the curlers are looking for help moving furniture and equipment in their club room so they can install new flooring and ceiling. They have scheduled work nights lasting from 6:30 until 9 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays over the next three weeks.

The updates are unrelated to the 2011 flood, which saw about four feet of water inside the building and caused around $40,000 in damages. The club paid for repairs from their dues and other contributions. With members coming from a wide variety of professional walks, much of the repair work was done themselves.

While weathering two bouts of flood damage in the past half-century, the concrete floor upon which the club lays down its ice sheets is original to the building. Decades of wear and tear have begun to take its toll on the floor’s surface, with two of the club’s usual six lanes now unusable. In addition, the seven miles of coolant piping which runs beneath the concrete is outdated and in need of replacement.

The curlers applied to the Minot Community Facilities Fund earlier this year for $275,000 in funding to replace the floor and underlying pipes.

“This will be the first time we’ve ever gotten public funding,” Hildahl said. While the project was approved, the group explained that there is still work to be done.

In the meantime, the curling clubbers are looking forward to the new season. Although a definite date has not been established (“We’ll send out notices,” Hildahl said) the club will host an open house for a few nights in mid-November. The sport is all-inclusive, being open to virtually everyone regardless of gender or age. In addition to organizing leagues for the upcoming year, at the open house members will be happy to show curious first-timers the ins and outs of the game.

As the club owns its own sets of stones, no heavy lifting will be necessary.