Matt Hamilton competes during Game 3 at the 2022 U.S. Olympic Team Trials — Curling on Nov. 21, 2021 in Omaha, Neb.
On his earliest possible day to obtain a driver’s license, Matt Hamilton was spoiled with fuel for his competitive curling engine.
The 2005 U.S. Olympic Team Trials began on his 16th birthday at his second home — the Madison Curling Club in McFarland, Wisconsin. For a week, he watched the host men’s and women’s teams each test nine visiting quartets seeking passports to the Olympic Winter Games Torino 2006.
On the men’s side, skip Craig Brown’s team attained a three-way tie for second place, one win behind four Minnesotans. Pete Fenson’s top-seeded team bested Brown’s in the playoff final.
In the women’s final, Debbie McCormick’s (née Henry) squad lost a 5-4 decision to Cassandra Johnson’s. MCC member Maureen Brunt joined that majority-Minnesotan team in Italy, but it was unusually slim representation.
Still, Hamilton recalled, “Seeing all the athletes there inspired me to get really into it and pursue the Olympic dream.”
Now twice as mature, he will relive that dream as the first defending gold medalist with MCC seasoning. His sister Becca and Nina Roth will likewise represent Team USA a second time. Their return means MCC ambassadors have combined to fill 14 out of 35 all-time women’s Olympic roster spots including Beijing.
Together the trio are the club’s latest of 13 Olympians or Paralympians in its history. They also tighten their grip on a torch radiating with milestones. The MCC is coming off its centennial in 2021 and celebrating its current facility’s 25th anniversary in 2022.
The 1920s were a not so roaring formative decade for the institute, which operated under the grandstands at the University of Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium until 1929. In between, men’s curling took a one-and-done stab at the 1924 Olympic Games, not to try again as a non-demonstration sport until 1998.
Shortly before turning 10, the MCC erected its own facility, and maintained it through a 67-year partnership with the city. That venue’s dying days and a subsequent shift to the outskirts coincided with Roth (née Spatola) and the Hamiltons’ rise through elementary school.
Roth was 9, Matt 8, Becca 7 when the six-sheet McFarland arena opened in September 1997. As residents of the town whose population is south of 9,000, the three would benefit from the building’s proximity and ensure new blood from the MCC to Team USA deep into the new millennium.
“McFarland is a village,” said Roth, “but we’ve grown up in this smaller curling village in the Madison Curling Club.”
As their village within a village took root, their elders were raring to watch them pick up where they left off after one more false start to curling’s Olympic presence.
Men’s stars Steve Brown, Wally Henry (McCormick’s father) and Ed Sheffield put the MCC on the world championship map in the late ’70s and the ’80s. The Olympic pipeline launched with a local quartet — skip Lisa Schoeneberg, second Lori Mountford and the mother-daughter duo of Diane and Erika Brown — constituting the first-ever women’s Olympic team, though in a demonstrative capacity at Calgary in 1988.
Erika, who at age 15 assumed that team’s third position, returned for the first official women’s Olympic tournament in Nagano in 1998, opposite Schoeneberg, Mountford and Debbie Henry. Erika’s father, Steve, was the coach both times, and has since joined Mountford and Schoeneberg in the USA Curling Hall of Fame.
Others sustained the legacy deep into this century, and Erika had a long-awaited third go-round at Sochi in 2014. That capped her sixth of eight seasons as a skip, while her brother Craig savored an Olympic journey as the men’s alternate.
Steve followed that act with his second run as the Paralympic wheelchair team coach, skipped by another MCC product in Patrick McDonald. With Kirk Black and Justin Marshall, he oversaw two more locals at PyeongChang in 2018.
All the while, the Browns influenced those who have cemented McFarland’s status as the MCC’s epicenter.
“I remember a few times when I was practicing down at the club,” Matt Hamilton said, “Erika or Craig Brown would be down there throwing and I would call my buddy and tell him to come down and throw stones. I asked them a few times if I could sweep their practice rocks. Those two were huge in shaping what I thought was possible.”