There are few Olympic events as idiosyncratic as curling, a strategic ice sport that seemingly appears out of nowhere every four years during the Winter Olympic Games.
But curling — a sport popular among Canadians, who are the reigning world champions — is gaining popularity on campus thanks to the Yale Graduate Student Curling Club. The group, founded in 2013, has 25 members, including three undergraduates. This Friday through Sunday, the club will be sending two teams composed of four athletes each to compete in the Yale Superspiel — a collegiate curling tournament at the Nutmeg Curling Club in Bridgeport. They will compete among 16 East Coast teams including Harvard, MIT and Penn.
“We want our first time curlers to play well and get exposure and experience,” said Fabian Schrey GRD ’19, the team’s president. “It’s important that the curling club is successful in the long run and not just in one season.”
Yale, currently ranked ninth out of 28 collegiate teams across the country, is hoping to earn “merit points” at the Bonspiel to ensure a spot at the College Curling Championship in Utica, New York, which includes the nation’s 16 best collegiate teams and will take place March 10–12.
At first glance, curling seems a bit confusing. Why are there two people vigorously sweeping the ice? Why is there so much yelling?
It’s actually simple. Teams take turns sliding 40-pound stones across the ice into a circular target called the house. Two members of the team called “sweepers” brush in front of the stone, affecting its trajectory as the skip — the shot-caller — yells out instructions. And all players wear curling shoes, one of which has a Teflon sole allowing the curler to glide across the ice.
At the end of each round, the stones closest to the center of the target earn points for the team who threw them. To maximize points, teams throw guards to block the target from opponents and takeouts to knock their opponents’ stones out of position. A draw is the standard shot that teams throw to land a stone on the home. The skip, the captain of the team, yells out instructions for the other three members.
“It’s a bit like chess on ice,” Schrey said. “Except it’s really hard to move the piece.”
But curling is not just a sport; it comes with its own sort of philosophy. Curling is not a cutthroat game with taunting and mean-spirited yelling. Krista Knudson GRD ’19, a member of the team, called the culture surrounding the sport “friendly, upbeat and polite.”
The spirit of curling includes a tradition called broomstacking in which players relax and have fun with the opposing team after the match, regardless of its outcome. According to members of the team, this could mean watching a movie together, playing Uno or going out for drinks.
Unlike basketball or football, in which teams can sometimes meet just once a year, curling teams tend to see the same people tournament after tournament. Because of this, there is a vibrant curling community, and students make friends from other schools, according to Schrey.
However, this spirit is not limited to the rinks. The Yale curling club has members ranging from undergraduates to a variety of professional schools. To many members of the team, curling becomes a community and more than just a sport.
“Curling is a great opportunity for undergraduates to meet students from the different schools and learn more about the wider Yale community,” team member Joseph Vinson ’18 said.
But still, the focus remains squarely on sport. The team has its own coach and practices every Sunday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Nutmeg Curling Club. They also work out a few times a week to prepare for the physical rigor of lifting 40-pound stones. Many members come to the team with no prior experience and end up skilled curlers and lovers of the game.
The team, though diverse, does have a “very disproportionate amount of Canadians,” Schrey said. “We used to have someone from Arizona, though.”
The tournament will begin at 7 p.m. on Friday and will continue throughout the weekend.