Playing Chess on Ice at the Kettle Moraine Curling Club

January 23, 2024
Photo by Patricia Puccinelli Carson Heinze demonstrates proper curling stone delivery technique.

Curling is a Sport of Physics, Geometry and Strategy

“You need to lean into the awkwardness. Curling is a game of finesse and balance. When you’re throwing a 44-pound granite stone while sliding on ice, you’re always thinking one, two or three steps ahead just like playing chess,” says Julie Fay-Krivitz, President of the Kettle Moraine Curling Club (KMCC) in Hartland. Julie has been curling for nearly 50 years, beginning in a junior curling program in 1976. 

Per their website, KMCC is “a vibrant organization with over 200 regular and 25 social members from 16 to 86 years old. Curling provides a wonderful mix of competitiveness and opportunities to socialize.” This will be the 60th year of ice at KMCC, which was founded by seven individuals in 1962, with its first ice produced in March 1964. KMCC’s facility, formerly a horse show arena, now sports an icehouse maintained at 22⁰, a comfortably warm clubhouse, an open kitchen for socializing and spacious locker areas. The club and its facilities are managed 100 percent by volunteers.

A Wee-Bit About Curling 

Fay-Krivitz explained that curling originated in Scotland about 500 years ago by people seeking entertainment during harsh winters. They turned kitchen corn strand brooms upside down and swung them like pendulums, similar to a golf swing, to move rocks across frozen freshwater lochs or lakes and ponds. The sport of curling is founded on sportsmanship while recognizing the value of building social relationships. 

In the U.S., the sport of curling is governed by the United States Curling Association (USCA). The Association’s website offers an interesting insight into the philosophy surrounding the sport, “We believe curling is a sport accessible to everyone regardless of ability, age or demographic with minimal cost prohibitions. We dream that curling will become a household topic, not just as an Olympic sport every four years, but every day. We build a community that fosters growth, emphasizes sportsmanship and demands excellence. A culture that is safe, inclusive, inspiring and timeless.” In December 2023, the USCA designated January 2024 as the inaugural National Curling Month. 

Fundamentals of Curling 

Carson Heinze is a third-generation curler who has enjoyed the sport since he was five. He is an Emergency Medical Technician and a KMCC volunteer who coaches junior curlers and helps maintain the ice. He explained that each curling team consists of four players for a total of eight players per match. The goal of each segment or “end” of a match is to move the granite stones across the ice “sheet” to land as close as possible to the center or “button” of the circular “house” scoring ring. Curlers sweep the ice in front of the moving stone with special brooms to reduce friction by heating and melting the ice to cause the stone to move farther across the sheet. The team with the stone closest to the button wins the end. A curling match consists of 8 to 10 ends.

Heinze explained that curling stones are made by only two companies from green and blue granite sourced primarily from one quarry on the uninhabited island of Ailsa Craig just west of mainland Scotland. Despite its imposing size and weight, the curling stone’s bottom is concave so that only about one quarter inch of the stone touches the ice, reducing friction and helping the stone to slide farther. Today’s stones, which can last up to 50 years, are made to strict specifications, and each one has a serial number. Years ago, curlers used whatever stones were available. 

Curling brooms have evolved over time also. Corn strand brooms were used until the 1950s when horse hair brooms were introduced. Today, curling brooms have handles made of fiberglass or carbon fiber fitted with nylon pads. 

Heinze donned a large backpack spray tank to demonstrate how he sprinkles small drops of water on the ice to form frozen “pebbles” on the sheets. Pebbling creates a surface similar to an orange peel, reducing friction and allowing the stone to travel farther. 

Perhaps most importantly, curling is a sport of integrity. According to Fay-Krivitz, “The spirit of curling keeps us going. It’s the integrity of the game and the integrity of you as a curler. There’s no one out there on the ice wearing black and white stripes, you’re calling your own fouls. If you burn that stone, meaning you hit it or fall on it when you’re sweeping, it’s up to you to call the foul.”

A Sport of Traditions: Broomstacking & Bonspiels

Fay-Krivitz spoke enthusiastically about the traditions involved in the sport of curling. She shared several photo albums that meticulously document the history of KMCC. One black and white photo from 1963 highlighted a men’s league with several members wearing Celtic wool curling sweaters, which remain popular for the sport today. 

The floor of the KMCC clubhouse is covered in bright red Scottish tartan plaid carpet. Scottish lore indicates that red tartan represents strength and bravery, but legend suggests red tartans were designed to disguise blood during battle. Either way, the carpet is a vivid reminder of the origin of the sport.  

“The curling spirit is the social side of the game, always encouraging your fellow curlers, even if they’re an opponent,” according to Fay-Krivitz. Each of the five tables in the KMCC clubhouse is identified by a letter, A through E, corresponding to one of the five sheets of curling ice. For example, if a team is curling on Sheet B, both before and after the match, the team and their opponents meet at Table B to talk about anything except the match. People focus on encouraging, optimistic conversation and relationship building. This tradition called “Broomstacking” originated when curlers would stack their brooms beside a fire after a match on a lake or pond to enjoy a drink with their opponents.

Bonspiels, derived from the Dutch term “spiel” which means “game,” are another tradition associated with curling. Bonspiels are curling tournaments composed of several games that typically are held over a weekend. KMCC is hosting a variety of bonspiels over the winter months, including the 64th Badger Women’s Bonspiel, aptly named the Barbie Badger Spiel in late January and The Mixed Spielbowski in February, which includes a raffle, a costume contest and entertainment. Fay-Krivitz chuckled as she shared that a curler never leaves a bonspiel hungry. She learned how to cook at the club and proclaimed that “curlers are the best cooks!”

players participate in intro to curling class
Participants in the Introduction to Curling Class

Something for Everyone

The KMCC turns on its compressors on Labor Day so the club can open its doors the last week in September with ice available from October through March. The club is closed in the summer while members enjoy summer sports such as golfing or sailing. 

The club offers something for everyone, including an open league for any combination of men and women, a men’s competitive league, a three-week introduction to curling course, a mixed league for couples, and a development league where experienced and inexperienced curlers play together to hone their skills and simply have fun.  

Women curlers of all experience levels, called “Kettles,” [TS1] [PP2] [PP3] play on multi-generational teams each Tuesday. They range in age from 12 to 92 years old. The Kettles are members of the United States Women’s Curling Associationwhich sponsors a friendship tour every five years where 20 women either come from Scotland to curl in the U.S. or vice versa. KMCC hosted and housed Scottish women participating in the friendship tour in October 2023. KMCC member Kathy Hyslop had the opportunity to travel to Scotland in November 2016 as part of the tour and shared that the highlight of the experience was “developing camaraderie with other women and finding out curling is a sport for all ages with no difference based on where you live.”

Fay-Krivitz explained that several KMCC members are “adaptive” or wheelchair curlers who use delivery aids or sticks to move the granite stones across the ice.  

While Heinze described curling as an extremely technical sport where there is always something to improve, such as slide, shot types and sweeping, everyone can see the joy on his face when he’s on or around the ice. Heinze curls with his with family, his parents curl together, he curls with his friend Joel and he and Joel now coach together. [TS4] 

With 32 clubs, Wisconsin has the most curling clubs of any state in the U.S. According to Olympics.com, the sport of curling has seen significant growth globally following the 2022 Olympic Winter Games. Heinze summed up a key reason for this growth, “There are all sorts of people out on the ice – children, men, women. One of the guys I curl with the most is 77 years old and I’m 23, so there’s a couple of years between us. We have a good time curling together. It’s not a sport just for young people. It’s a sport anyone can succeed at in some way or another.”  


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