Matt Gruhlke uses a caliper to measure whether which team’s stone was closest to the button.
by CHRIS ROGERS
Todd Roessler called the shot. His team’s last stone would have to graze past his own team’s “guard” and strike the inside of the opponents’ innermost stone if it was going to stand a chance of dislodging the cluster of rival stones, which were poised to score four points near the center (the “button”) of the bullseye-like “house.” Over 100 feet away, Roessler’s teammate eyed Roessler’s mark and pushed off, sliding across the ice with a massive stone in his grip, before letting it slip from hand, spinning counterclockwise. More teammates jogged alongside the stone as it skipped down the ice, with brooms ready to sweep furiously, but Roessler called them off. The shot was on target. It was curling just right, and it was fast enough, maybe too fast. It knocked out a couple rival stones, then ricocheted far from the button itself.
Centerville, Wis., may be a small, unincorporated town, but curling is a big deal in Centerville and Centerville curling is kind of a big deal. The Centerville Curling Club has produced Olympians and state champions. With high quality ice and an overhead camera feed for spectators, it was one of the best curling facilities in America when it was built in the ‘90s, club organizers said. This year, the club hosted the U.S. Senior Men’s National Championships in January and a match between Team Scotland and Team USA. On any given Wednesday night, it is packed with intergenerational teams of locals from Centerville, Galesville, and Trempealeau.
“He said I never do anything he does,” Mark Ewing said, describing how he got started at this game his son has played since he was in high school. “It’s something to do with the old man,” Darrell Ewing explained.
When Ray Burt grew up, Galesville still had its own curling club, curling was a sanctioned high school sport, and the brooms were made of straw. At bonspiels (tournaments), Burt swept so hard his hands blistered and bled. “But you didn’t quit. You just kept playing,” he said.
Icemaker Dan Lilla had just finished helping his father milk cows when he came into the club to tackle some paperwork. Many curling clubs share ice with hockey arenas — a yes-than-ideal setup — so Centerville is blessed to have sheets dedicated to the Scottish rock-throwing sport. Every fall he spends two to three weeks creating the ice at the club. Curling ice is specialized and requires very pure water, Lilla said. Plus the surface is pebbled, an effect Lilla creates each day by walking around the sheets with a backpack sprayer and raining water droplets down onto the ice.
“We have a pretty unique situation here,” Lilla said. “Even though it’s a small town, we draw from an urban area and have club volunteers that keep it running.”
The club has made a point of attracting new curlers, too. Before getting married, Chelsea and Zach Scruggs went on a date to a learn-to-curl night. They joined the beginners’ league this winter. It is easy to learn and hard to master, beginners and veterans alike said. “Within an hour we were playing pretty competitively,” Zach Scruggs said. However, the sport requires constant adjustment, he added, because the speed of the ice changes from day to day, even hour to hour. Because a person’s game can be on-point one day and hopelessly off the next, “anybody is beatable any day,” Laura Roessler said.
Here is how curling works. There are two teams with four players and eight stones each. The players take turns throwing the stones down a long, narrow “sheet.” At the end of the sheet, there is a big bullseye called “the house.” The center of the bullseye is called “the button.” On each team, an experienced player called the skip stands down by the house and tells the thrower where to aim and which direction to spin the stone, which causes the stone to hook or “curl.” After it is thrown, two teammates run alongside the stone and, depending on what direction the skip gives, may sweep the ice in front of the stone. Sweeping melts the surface of the ice and causes the stone to travel further and straighter. Each round of eight stones is called an “end,” and at the end of end, only the team with the stone closest to the button scores points. If a team has more than one stone closer to the button than the opposing team, they score one point for each stone. Teams play eight or 10 ends per game.
Beginners and veterans said they love the strategy of curling. Skips may call for their team to throw a “guard” in front of the house that blocks the other team’s throws, or they might ask their curlers to try to curl their throws around rival guards. Skips might call for a “draw,” aiming for the button, or a takeout, meant to knock out the other team’s stones.
Then, said Laura Roessler, there are unspoken rules: no heckling; handshakes after every game; and teams buy each rounds of beer afterward.
At 81, Burt no longer lunges and slides across the ice when he throws. Burt and other players use sticks that allow them to curl while simply walking along upright. “It’s a good lifetime sport,” said Bob Hanson.
“It’s a good way to get out in the winter without freezing,” said Winonan Julie Schoener.
For more information on the Centerville Curling Club, visit www.centervillecurlingclub.com.