Minnesota or Wisconsin?
When asked which state is the true home of curling in the United States, Wisconsin native Matt Hamilton sighed.
“I used to advocate real hard (for Wisconsin), but it just keeps on growing,” said Hamilton, who is from McFarland, which is outside of Madison. “I don’t hear as often about clubs popping up in Wisconsin as I do about Minnesota.
“I think Minnesota is probably the heart of curling in the U.S.; Wisconsin is definitely a close second though.”
It’s hard not to notice an Upper Midwestern theme running through the list of athletes competing at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Curling, which are ongoing this week in Omaha, Nebraska. Of the eight skips leading teams there, six have ties to Minnesota or Wisconsin.
Curling ties in each state run deep.
According to USA Curling, Minnesota is home to 23 curling clubs, and Wisconsin 28. The next highest states, Massachusetts and New York, each have 11.
At the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014, each state was represented, with skip John Shuster’s team curling out of Minnesota and Erika Brown’s team out of Wisconsin.
And it’s no coincidence that the sport’s two main national centers have homes in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Four Seasons Curling Club in Blaine, Minnesota, is USA Curling’s national training center, while the federation’s headquarters are located in Steven’s Point, Wisconsin.
But as Hamilton alluded to, Minnesota seems to be winning the border battle these days.
“I would definitely say (Minnesota is) kind of the hub of curling,” said skip Jamie Sinclair, the 2017 women’s national champion who was born in Alaska but curls out of Blaine. “Having our national training center there helps, so there’s a lot of competitions that are held in Minnesota, like in Duluth, in Eveleth, and the Twin Cities, a lot of competitions locally there … but Wisconsin is a close second I would say.”
Three-time Olympian Shuster grew up in Chisholm, in northern Minnesota, and now curls out of Duluth. He too pointed to the growth of the sport in the North Star State as evidence of its superiority.
“Minnesota is pretty much the hub,” said Shuster, who was part of the 2006 U.S. team that won an Olympic bronze medal. “You’re seeing now people from the coasts; we’ve got a couple from the West Coast, and kids now when they graduate high school from the East Coast, they’re moving to Minnesota because we have the most access to high-level competitions, we generally have the best ice to practice on and the best people to surround yourself with to really make advancements in our sport.”
Curling dates back to the 16th century in Scotland, and began spreading around the world in the 1800s. However, curling has seen an explosion of popularity since being added to the Olympic program in 2006.
Minnesota had a head start on most states. The St. Paul Curling Club is the oldest club in Minnesota, established in the state’s capital city in 1912, and boasts the nation’s largest membership with more than 1,200 members. About a two-and-a-half hour drive north is the Duluth Curling Club, which has previously hosted the U.S. Olympic Team Trials as well as served as home ice for multiple Olympians.
Now those venerable clubs have some company.
“We have five dedicated ice curling clubs that have popped up over the last five years in the Twin Cities metro,” Shuster said, “and you’re not seeing that growth anywhere else in the world.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Mixed Doubles Curling, an event that makes its Olympic debut in PyeongChang, are scheduled for Dec. 13-17 in Blaine.
But no matter the numbers, both states are suitable homes of curling, perhaps thanks to their shared Midwestern, close-knit community values. Skip Nina Roth, also of McFarland, referenced that sense of community as what makes curling special in Wisconsin.
“Especially growing up in Madison, we’re a big curling community,” Roth said. “We have a lot of families, like curling families, so you grow up in these curling families, and everyone from the little kids throwing junior rocks to grandma and grandpa are still curling. That’s one of the sweetest things about this sport is that you can keep curling with your parents and your grandparents, it’s just multigenerational and it’s cool.”
Shuster had a similar experience growing up in Chisholm.
“I started doing it in ninth grade full time,” he said. “I’d get done with school, I’d head to the curling club, and my best friend’s grandpa ran the restaurant and canteen that was upstairs, and our junior curling coordinator was there every single day, and we went out on the ice and threw hundreds of rocks and had that access.”
Whichever one you choose, it’s clear that both states have had major contributions to curling in the U.S. And the sport is better off for having both.
Todd Kortemeier is a sportswriter, editor and children’s book author from Minneapolis. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.