Few sports that have been a part of Olympic competition for nearly a century have done so without garnering widespread attention or fandom. But such is the story of curling, a strategic ice sport that has recently found a home at Yale.
The Yale Graduate Student Curling Club, founded in 2013, enjoyed success at the 2016 Super Spiel tournament held at Nutmeg Curling Club in Bridgeport this past weekend. From Yale’s 18-member club, eight members competed on two teams that won a combined four games in the 16-team event, including a victory over archrival Harvard.
This year, three undergraduates and 15 students in multiple professional schools comprise the largest membership in the club’s nearly three-year history.
“I had been curling for a few years before coming to Yale and thought it was necessary to start a club here,” club founder Kelsey Schuder GRD ’16 said.
Schuder, who earned a Master of Public Health degree from Yale in 2015 and is now a candidate for a master’s in nursing, formed the club in the spring of 2013 and initially five members joined. That figure nearly doubled the following year before multiplying again to its current size, through a combination of word of mouth and advertisements for introductory sessions.
Allison Goldberg GRD ’16, a Ph.D. candidate in pharmacology with no prior curling experience, got involved after seeing one such on-campus advertisement for a Yale learn-to-curl event at the Bridgeport facility.
“So long as you’re a student, you can curl with the club,” Goldberg said. “You’re on the ice throwing stones before you know the purpose of the game.”
The basics of curling are simple — two opposing teams of four players each take turns sliding 40-pound stones across 150 feet of ice onto a bullseye target called the house. Stones can be thrown as “guards” to block the target from opponents, as “draws” to score points by landing in the bullseye or as “takeouts” to knock the opponent’s stones out of position.
As a player throws her stone, teammates known as “sweepers” brush the ice in front of the stone with curling brooms, changing its speed and trajectory according to the vocalized instructions of the team’s skip, or captain.
“You have to be a bit of a dynamic sportsman,” team member Fabian Schrey GRD ’19 said.
Despite the varied nuances of the game’s tactics, however, the members of Yale’s team eagerly encourage newcomers to join and emphasize the uniqueness of the sport’s accessibility at Yale.
Yale’s team members range in age from 19 to 35 years old and most members had no prior experience with the sport before joining. Goldberg noted that the members “spread from really athletically competitive to not-so-coordinated.” The team lauds its diversity and the newfound friendships forged through curling.
“The team at Yale specifically is full of the most interesting and supportive people, and everyone, regardless of previous experience, is welcomed into the family with open arms and given opportunities to develop lifelong skills and friendship” said Marc Bielas ’18, one of the three undergraduates on the team.
The importance of community, according to multiple team members, is as integral to the game of curling as are the ice and brushes. They also said that curlers universally prioritize friendliness and sportsmanship, and that socialization is even built into the sport itself.
Both teams participate in a universal curling tradition called “broomstacking,” in which players of opposing teams come together and socialize after each match.
“The spirit of curling, and the game, are very polite, and the whole community promotes that spirit,” Schuder said.
In addition to conducting weekly practices and attending workshops sponsored by the Nutmeg Curling Club, the Yale team competes in regional open tournaments, or bonspiels, against other collegiate teams such as UPenn, Harvard and MIT.
Yale currently ranks seventh nationally out of the 28 collegiate competitive curling teams, and hopes to qualify for the 16-school USA Curling College Championship tournament in Chaska, Minnesota, in March.
“It’s like getting into March Madness,” Goldberg said.