Minnesota this year cemented its place as the nation's home for curling after the U.S. men's curling team took home a gold medal in the Winter Olympics with four of five members from Minnesota.
That dominance was clear over the weekend when the best curling players in the country gathered in Fargo for the U.S. Curling National Championships. Almost half the players had ties to Minnesota.
"The fact that the Olympics gold medalist men's are from Minnesota is awesome. I think we're going to really grow, but that's not just here but throughout the country. and Minnesota is going to be this hot-bed of curling," said Alex Carlson, the vice skip of Team Sinclair. "And this sport is so big on camaraderie. You get to hang out with people. And it's very gentlemanly, which is also very Minnesotan."
Team Sinclair, based in St. Paul, took first place in the women's National Championship, and two players, one from each team, in the men's Championship are from Minnesota.
The team skip (or captain) of the women's national championship team, Jamie Sinclair, said her and a few other members of her team have relocated to St. Paul specifically for the opportunity to train at the National Sports Center nearby in Blaine.
"We relocated two years ago, we all moved to St. Paul to be able to train together and work as a team. It's because of that national training center," Sinclair said.
There are about 20,000 curlers in 40 states registered with USA Curling, the governing body for the sport in the country. Wisconsin leads with interest in the sport with 28 registered clubs in the state and 4,000 curlers.
Minnesota follows right behind with 3,500 registered curlers and 24 curling clubs in the state.
However, Minnesota facilities and the culture with youth programs help develop strong players at a younger age. A lot of good players come to the state because of its reputation with the sport, said Tyler George, a member of the Olympic gold medal team.
"When you have more teams to compete against, it's going to make you a better player. And then when you get a reputation for being a curling hot-bed, then the best players come to that state," George said. "It's kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy at that point. People want to go where they can play on good ice all the time. It's the same as any other sport."
Most curling clubs will tell you that following a Winter Olympics match, interest in the sport picks up for a few weeks, and clubs capitalize by scheduling 'learn to curl' events. But after the Olympics are over, the interest falls off again.
This time around, clubs around the country are booking more learn-to-curl events according to the Associated Press, showing that the excitement is lasting longer than the normal bump from the Olympics.
The Denver Curling Club held six open houses over 10 days, and more than 1,000 people ages 6 to 80 came out to try the sport for 30 or 60 minutes. The Lone Star Curling Club in Austin, Texas, has sold out 500 spots spread over 10 learn-to-curls, with two sessions selling out in 29 hours.
The Coyotes Curling Club in Tempe, Arizona, has gone from one or two learn-to-curls a month to scheduling 10 in March and another 10 in April, with as many as 160 people accommodated at each. The Orlando Curling Club often lost money on learn-to-curls, president Bryan Pittard said, but has sold out five recently and expects to fill two more.
Does that mean we're going to see more players coming from states other than Minnesota?
"I hope so. The more states that field competitive players, the better it is for the game. As you see more of these new clubs popping up like in the southern states, eastern states and west coast, places where curling isn't traditionally known well, it's going to make the competitive pool deeper," said George.
Sinclair said she believes there will be more interest in the sport, but it might not shift where the high performing curlers gather.
"I still think that Minnesota is still going to be the hub of the sport, but I'm sure that you'll start seeing clubs being built in places that don't have any yet," Sinclair said. "You're going to see it growing at the grass roots level, and you'll see the competitive levels increasing in the central areas like Minnesota and Wisconsin.'