The ice sheets at the Lakes Curling Club in Detroit Lakes have been ready since November, but with the Minnesota sports rollback, their season was thrown into limbo until now.
The new curling season will officially begin on Jan. 4, as youth and adult sports restrictions were loosened by Gov. Tim Walz.
After Walz issued his November executive order rolling back youth and adul, sports, the club knew they needed to do their part in stopping the spread of COVID-19, so they paused their season before it began.
"We generally have ice that is feasible in November, so we'll do some community education and invite people in to practice on the ice, and none of that happened," said Gene Benson, club president at Lakes Curling Club. "At the time that the governor shut it down, the debate was whether or not it was worth waiting for, and our costs are all on the front end until we get our membership fees to help us with the costs."
With constant refrigeration needed to keep the sheets frozen, the club is spending between $1,800 to $2,000 per month just to keep the ice playable. If it thaws, it will take a lot more work and money to regain the competitive ice needed for league play.
The club also usually hosts a few tournaments, called bonspiels, throughout the season, but since the events would involve dozens of teams traveling from states throughout the Midwest and Canada, the club has canceled the events due to the pandemic.
"All of that potential revenue that helps will not be available this year," said Benson.
The season usually begins the week after Thanksgiving with up to 40 teams playing Tuesday through Thursday nights. However, the pandemic has limited the number of teams willing to participate this season, said Benson. This season only about 25 teams will be throwing stones, which means a decrease in team fees and annual membership renewals.
"There are people who have paid their dues in hopes that (the season) would get started," he said. "But it's not at the level we need in order to pay our bills, so we are really counting on getting started so we can pay our bills for the year."
The club does have a fund set aside they may be able to tap into for their operational losses, but that money is set aside for a potential move out of their 50-year-old building to a new home and they would rather not use those funds, said Benson. The club is also looking into emergency business relief grants from Becker County and may be able acquire a $2,000 grant.
However, much of that planning for the worst may not be necessary after all. On Monday, the Minnesota Department of Health issued new guidelines allowing youth sports to resume their practice and competition schedules on Jan. 4; the guidelines included adult sports, which the Lakes Curling Club falls under.
"It looks like the current restrictions will be done on Jan. 3, so we're planning to open short of hearing something that tells us different," said Benson. "So, we're going to start next week and hopefully we'll get a good three months of curling in."
He also said the season may also be extended into April to try to make up for the lost matches.
"There's a lot of respect that goes into curling," said Roger Lee, 79, a 32-year Lakes Curling Club veteran and former club president. "Respect for your opponents . . . respect for the game, there are no officials out there. The teams get out there, they play, and they decide."
He also said he'd be willing to wear a mask while curling, if he was required to, just to get back out on the ice.
Lee said he usually fields two teams every year, one full of old curling veterans and one of young novices in an attempt to spark interest for the younger generation in the sport.
"I enjoy curling with my old guys because we like to go to a few bonspiels...it's a very good social time that way, but it's not a good way to grow the club if you just stick with your same old people," said Lee. "So I've always been running two teams. My second team, I'm always trying to introduce new people, young people to the sport."
Lee also said the sport has continued to grow in Minnesota since the 2002 Olympics and that growth can be seen in the rise of all the different curling clubs popping up in the Twin Cities over the last 15 years.
When asked why he loves curling so much, Lee said, "Because an old guy like me, that still likes to be competitive, can go out there and hold his own against the young jocks."