A year after the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, when the U.S. men’s curling team scored an unexpected victory over Sweden to earn a gold medal and Americans embraced the sport with enthusiasm across the internet, people are still getting excited about it in Homer.
Jessica Schultz, a two-time Olympic curler for the U.S. women’s team who was born and raised in Anchorage, took to the ice last Saturday to pass her skills and knowledge on to locals. Having attended the 2006 and 2014 Winter Olympics, she’s picked up a thing or two.
Schultz traveled to Homer for a Learn to Curl clinic she organized with the Homer Curling Club. It served as a fundraiser for the group as well as a way to help the sport gain a bit more popularity. Curling got its start in Homer in 2006 when the Kevin Bell Ice Arena was the curling venue for the 2006 Arctic Winter Games.
About 16 eager students and seven volunteers took to the ice at the Kevin Bell Arena to learn from Schultz, according to Tamara Fletcher, a member of the Homer Curling Club. They practiced sliding, or delivering a curling stone made of granite, using a stabilizer at first. They tried their hand at sweeping the stones along the curling sheet, or ice, toward the house — a ring of concentric circles painted into the ice. Where the stones land in the house determines scoring.
Nicknamed “chess on ice,” curling involves more strategy than most people realize, Schultz said.
“There’s a lot more to the game than what meets the eye,” she said. “There’s complexities to it that people watch it in the Olympics and think that they can go out and do it and compete at that level. I say, ‘come out and try it,’ because it’s a fantastic sport.”
Everything from varying ice conditions to differences in “how the rocks play” can change a given game, Schultz said.
“It’s just always different, it’s always changing,” she said.
A curler can also create a curved path for the curling rock by causing the stone to slowly turn as it slides. The two sweepers can also influence the stone’s path with brooms as they accompany it as it slides down the sheet. Sweeping the ice in front of a rock decreases the friction that otherwise would slow it down. Sweeping also makes a rock curl less.
Schultz said she thinks Alaska can benefit from expanded awareness of curling, a sport that gives people an opportunity to travel, since it’s a state where some communities can feel isolating. She recently moved back to Eagle River and is looking to support the sport in any way she can.
“I heard that curling was happening in Homer and I wanted to reach out and just see how I could help and assist, and hopefully raise awareness of curling,” she said. “That’s kind of my new poise after retiring from competitive curling. I jut wanted to come home, and I think curling could really take hold in Alaska. I think the communities could really benefit from it.”
Both Schultz and Fletcher touted curling’s inviting atmosphere and the fact that people of all ages and abilities can play it. The accessibility makes it a good sport for communities, they said.
Schultz got her start in the sport when a friend suggested it as a family activity. From there, she started traveling with a junior team.
“Then I was hooked, right?” she said. “Because then I’m traveling out of state, and I’m getting to meet all these kids across the country. I just kind of fell in love with it from that, and realized that there’s more to the sport than what we know of up here.”
Currently, Fairbanks has the largest curling facility, followed by a two-sheet curling facility in Anchorage. While Homer doesn’t have a facility dedicated to curling, the Homer Curling Club uses the Kevin Bell Ice Arena. A portion of the proceed’s from Saturday’s clinic are going to the arena in return for the ice time, Fletcher said.
This iteration of the Homer Curling Club is in its fifth season. This year the club is expanding its options by incorporating team play from January through March.
“It’s an all ages, all body types kind of sport,” Fletcher said. “I like the intergenerational component to it.”
Schultz said she now has her eye on Nikiski as another possible community to promote curling in. She said it was exciting to see increased American consciousness of the sport over the course of her career.
“It’s been kind of fun to see the changes in the sport,” she said. “Going back to ‘05, we were made fun of. We had media people pinching our arms being like, ‘well you don’t look like a curler. You don’t act like a curler.’ … You get the joking, ‘Can you come sweep my kitchen floors?’ and whatever. Which is fine, and it’s all in good humor, but in the (2014) games when I was competing, you actually had people that are serious. You get serious questions from people that really understand the game.”
Schultz said her favorite thing about curling is that “you can learn something new almost every time you got out on the ice.”
For more information on the Homer Curling Club, call 907-399-7252,