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Local Curling Club Gears Up to host National Competition

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Curling is enjoying ever-increasing popularity in the United States and right here in Kalamazoo. If you have a broom, a stone, a sheet of ice, and a hack, you might be a curler. Even if you don't, the Kalamazoo Curling Club is glad to provide the required equipment and teach you how to curl.

If you just want to watch first, you are in luck. Kalamazoo will host the National Curling Competition at Wings Stadium in Kalamazoo Feb. 14-21.

This year marks the second time in five years that Kalamazoo has been chosen as the venue for the National Curling Competition. The last time Kalamazoo hosted the Curling Nationals in 2010, Wings Stadium played host to 100 players and some 10,000 spectators from all over the nation. All involved were happy with the experience and the high caliber of hosting from the Kalamazoo Curling Club, Wings Stadium, and Discover Kalamazoo, so they will be back.

Curling officially began in Kalamazoo in 2008. Former Kalamazoo resident Dean Gemmell and co-worker Kent Elliott started the first team, which evolved into the club.

Gemmell, who has since moved to New Jersey, but continued curling, will return to Kalamazoo to compete in the Nationals next month. According to his Facebook page, he is looking to catch up with Kalamazoo friends while in town. Kalamazoo teammate Marcus Gleaton, current president of the Kalamazoo Curling Club, says the club refers to them as the father and grandfather of Kalamazoo curling.

"Curlers have a unique personality, and Kalamazoo is a unique place," said Gleaton. Having access to a lot of arena ice, along with the growing popularity of the sport, curling in Kalamazoo seems to be a perfect fit.

Enthusiasm and interest have kept the club going.

Gleaton, owner of the Gleaton Insurance Agency on West Main Street, has been the club's president since 2010. The club has grown to some 100 local players who play on Friday, Sunday, and Monday nights at the Wings Stadium Annex for fall and winter leagues. They not only hold "learn to curl sessions" for all ages, but also for local companies like Stryker and Pfizer. Gleaton also teaches a curling class at WMU.

Kalamazoo resident John Beebee, an environmental scientist currently based at Western Michigan University, has been curling with the Kalamazoo Curling Club for four years. He enjoys it as an alternative sport and likes the camaraderie of the other players. "It is a social game (as well)," he said.

What exactly is curling, you ask? Like golf, curling is sport that knows no age. You can hit your stride at age 25 or 75, or anywhere in between.

It is played on a 150-foot long sheet of ice with a stone. There are four people on a team, who play eight-ten ends, similar to innings in baseball.

The object of the game is to score points by delivering stones closer to the house center, or the button, than the other team's stones. Players from either team alternate taking shots from the far side of the sheet.

An end is complete when all eight rocks from each team have been delivered, a total of 16 stones. It has been an Olympic sport since 1998 for both men and women.

According to Gleaton, the National Curling Association has identified three levels of curling. It is all about the ice. "Half the curling clubs in the U.S. are arena clubs, and the other half play on ice that is designated just for curling," he said. "There is a big difference."

Arena clubs, like the one here is Kalamazoo, play on ice that is used for other things like hockey.

"Arena ice is more difficult to play on, you have to really love curling!" said Gleaton.

And love curling they do! The Kalamazoo women's team won the US Arena Club Nationals in 2014, and the men took the silver.

"The top level of curling is for the 'big' kids," said Gleaton. "They come from all over the United States."

These teams rarely stay the same throughout the higher levels of competition. They are the ones most likely to qualify for the Olympics, national and world-wide competitions.

Wings Stadium will lay designated curling ice for the competition.

With nationals right around the corner, local volunteers are needed and there are lots of ways to get involved. Please visit the event's website for details.

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