Madison curlers are n-ice

Don’t be intimated by curling. It’s a welcoming sport.

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The Madison Curling Club was founded in 1921. | Photo by 608today

We walk into the Madison Curling Club for the first time, curious about the game of stones, brushes, and ice. We find Aaron Bertsch, the club’s president, and ask him about what curling is all about and the community surrounding the sport.

He smiles. “If someone wanders into any curling club for the first time and asks someone what it’s all about, a curler, any curler, will be happy to show them around and talk their ear off about it.”

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Aaron Bertsch, president of the Madison Curling Club, has been playing for a decade. | Photo by 608today

Curling is a niche sport, but Bertsch assures us that it’s for everyone, regardless of age, gender, or skill. Bertsch promises that after spending some time on the sheet (the playing surface), you’ll leave with an appreciation for the game and its players.

“Curling is a game of skill and of traditions,” said H.T. Ferguson, the club president in the 1940s, in his statement, “The Spirit of Curling.” “A shot well executed is a delight to see. It is a fine thing to perceive the time-honored traditions of curling being applied in the true spirit of the game.”

The rules, traditions, and curling slang are something we’ve discussed before. Bertsch learned those things for the first time in college.

“I liked sports, so after class at Northern Illinois University, I’d watch ESPN2. Curling was on. I’d never seen it before. I like strategy and curling has a lot of that. I got enamored.”

A project manager at Electronic Theatre Controls in Middleton, he’s been on the ice for a decade now. “It’s just fun to play.”

He brings up camaraderie and tradition. Before any game, curlers shake hands with the opposing team. They play the game. They finish and shake hands again.

“We then all sit together, have a drink or two, and get to know each other,” he said. He’s played teams from Texas to Maine to Quebec City, and now knows them all a little better. And, of course, he’s played plenty locally.

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Curling has a rich history in Wisconsin going back to the mid-1800s. | Photo by 608today

To be a member of the Madison Curling Club, the cost is $525 per year. With 580 members and a waiting list, the club typically accepts about 40 new members per year.

On Saturday, March 30, the club will host a three-hour “Learn to Curl” workshop. For $75, attendees will learn curling basics and play with other novices. Pre-registration is required.

Curling competitions, called bonspiels, are open to the public and take place over the course of a day.

At the club, the Fowler Bonspiel will take place Friday, March 1-Sunday, March 3. The Gilmore Bonspiel will be on Saturday, March 9, and the Kraut Bonspiel will be on Saturday, March 23.

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Madison Curling Club has been home to national champion players. | Photo by 608today

The Madison Curling Club, founded in 1921, isn’t the only club in the area. There are several in nearby Columbia County, including ones in Arlington, Poynette, Pardeeville, and Portage. The curling traditions in Portage go all the way back to 1850. The oldest continuously operating curling club in the US is in Milwaukee, founded in 1845.

Most equipment can be found at the clubs themselves for use. For those eager to get their own shoes, brushes, or curling pants (yes, there are specially made curling pants), Madison has its own store. Steve’s Curling Supplies is touted as America’s No. 1 curling supplier.

Wander into any of those places with your new pants, whether it be a club in Pardeeville or here in Madison, and you’ll find someone eager to help you learn the game and why they’re passionate about it. “Go anywhere like that,” Bertsch said, “and you can find out if you’ll get hooked.” He smiles again. “You will get hooked.”