By Brian Kalish
November 12, 2018
Wausau– A couple of area football teams will be lacing up their cleats in Madison for a shot at a championship this week. Girls basketball hit the hardwood over a week ago, and boys basketball practice is now underway.
Same for wrestling and hockey.
Football, basketball, hockey and wrestling tend to hog the spotlight this time of year, but curling, which has been floating in the margins for a while now, is soaring in popularity among high school students.
If you think high school basketball and hockey get a lot of participation– and they do– let’s take a little pop quiz.
How many students are participating on D.C. Everest’s curling teams this year?
This was kind of a trick question because the answer is actually “none of the above.”
According to Everest coach Tom Wood, there are 42 students who are out for curling this year.
That’s pretty astounding when you stop to think about it.
Wood, who has been coaching at Everest for 17 years, said the surge in curling’s popularity can be attributed to a couple of factors, including last year’s Olympics.
“We had a tremendous Olympic year with a gold medal for the U.S. men, ” said Wood. “That brought interest in curling to a lot of people. That’s shown up in our membership (at the Wausau Curling Club), at our Learn to Curls, and also in the high school. The other thing is the high school kids recruit their friends because they have a tremendous amount of fun. We’ve had a good group and they’ve done fairly well, and they have fun.”
High school curling is open to students in each grade level, and team members needn’t be experts in the sport to sign up.
In fact, quite the opposite. Curling invites students of all ability levels.
“Curling can be played in many different ways,” Wood said. “You can have the hardcore… and they’ll curl every weekend, they’ll curl every day. But there are very few who have that degree of desire. More than half on the team this year are first-year curlers. They’ve never stepped on the ice before two and half weeks ago… but they’re learning a lot. They’re growing up quickly.”
Everest senior Anna Peloquin is in her fourth year curling for the Evergreens, and was prodded by her family to take to the ice and join the team as a freshman.
“My mom curls, my grandparents curled, my uncle curls and my aunt curled,” Peloquin said. “So it was kind of a family thing.”
Peloquin said the sport offers a unique blend of physical and mental challenges, which is part of its appeal.
“A really easy way to explain it is shuffleboard on ice,” Peloquin said. “The most physically exerting part is sweeping. And then it takes a lot of strategy for the skip– that’s the person who calls all the shots; that’s the captain. It takes a lot of strategy because if your opposing skip is also really smart, you’re like, oh how do I outsmart them.”
According to Wood, curling is a social game, and that it truly highlights the most positive aspects of high school competitive sports, including teamwork and sportsmanship.
“It’s a finesse game, it’s a thinking game, it’s a social game,” Wood said. “One of the traditions of curling is that you socialize with your opponents afterwards. So there should be no bad feelings. You definitely compete to win, but you don’t try and embarrass and belittle and demean your opponent because you’re responsible to sit with them and become a social event after the competition side of it is over.”
Curling is unlikely to muscle out basketball and hockey– or any of the other winter sports for that matter– in the sports section of local newspapers.
But if it continues to grow in popularity at its current rate, it’s going to be awfully hard to ignore for much longer.