FARGO, N.D. (AP) — While the event is called the USA Curling National Championships, the field is flooded with regional competitors.
More than 70 percent of the men’s and women’s curlers who are coming to Fargo are from Minnesota, Wisconsin or North Dakota.
“There are more curling clubs. There are more curlers; therefore, there are more competitive curlers,” said Pete Fenson, an Olympic bronze medalist from Bemidji, Minn. “It’s just the Midwestern states where most of the curlers are. That’s just always where there has been more curling clubs. It isn’t like it’s died anywhere else.”
Fenson is the skip for Team Fenson, one of the 10 men’s team’s that will compete at the national championships that start Saturday at Scheels Arena. There are also 10 women’s teams. The winners in each division advance to the world championships scheduled for this spring.
Of the 90 curlers set to compete from 11 different states, only 11 men and 14 women reside outside of Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota.
“It’s probably more the climate than anything,” said Craig Disher, 53, from Rolla, the skip for Team Disher. “There just isn’t a lot of curling in the other states. I mean, there are a lot of states that have curling. They just don’t have the people (numbers) really. Most of them are in arenas, and you only get to curl, like, once a week.”
According to the United State Curling Association, there are curling clubs in 40 of the 50 states. However, the curlers are not evenly distributed.
More than half of the more than 14,000 USCA members are from Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota. Wisconsin has more than 3,600, Minnesota more than 3,400 and North Dakota more than 800.
“There is a reason why it’s that way,” said USCA spokesman Terry Kolesar. “There is such a strong tradition in those states. It’s part of the culture there.”
There is also a strong family flavor to the sport, and that is another reason why many of the top U.S. curlers come from the state with the highest number of curlers.
Eight sets of siblings are expected to compete at this national along with one husband-wife combination and one mother-daughter duo.
Fenson — who has won six men’s national crowns, including last year’s title — started curling when he was 13 years old. His parents helped get him started in the sport. His father, Bob Fenson, won a national title in 1979 and went on to play in the world championships in Berne, Switzerland.
“I remember thinking at that time that was a pretty cool thing that a game like curling could take me to Europe,” Pete Fenson said. “And it was possible for a regular person to compete in a world championship.”
Michelle Wagner, 27, who lives in Fargo, plays for Team Reiser, which will compete in the women’s division. Like Fenson, parental influence got Wagner exposed to curling.
“I kind of grew up in the Minot curling club,” said Wagner, who is eight months pregnant. “It seems to be a generational sport. I don’t think a lot of people wake up one morning and say ‘Hmm, I’m going to try curling.’ ”
Nicole Reiser, 28, who lives in Mandan, is the skip for Wagner’s team. Reiser said she started curling when she was 9 years old. Both her parents curled.
“It just starts to happen when you’re young,” said Fenson, who has curled for about 30 years. “The more you play and the more you commit and the longer you play, it kind of gets in your blood. It’s what you do.”
The national championships run through Feb. 19.
By ERIC PETERSON
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