SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. — Need evidence that the gold medal won by the American curling team at this year’s Olympics created a buzz around the sport in the United States? Look no further than the Green Mountain Curling Club, where that buzz signifies a swarm descending upon its curling classes.

“We’ve had a lot more response to ‘Learn to Curls,'” club member Mike Sitko said of the two-hour sessions where aspiring curlers learn the basics of the game and play a couple of ends. (Ends are similar to innings in a baseball game.)

Normally, Sitko said, the club gets 10 or so people out for its monthly Learn to Curl sessions. Following February’s unlikely victory led by U.S. curler John Shuster at the Winter Olympics in South Korea, the Green Mountain Curling Club had 30 people sign up for its next class.

“It was big enough that we split it up,” said Sitko, who lives in Jericho. One session was held last weekend at the club’s ice just across the Canadian border in Bedford, Quebec, and the next will be held there in a couple of weeks.

American interest in the sport that involves brooms and rocks is rising higher than perhaps it’s ever been as a result of the nation’s first-ever Olympic gold – at the same time, coincidentally, that the most-prominent local curling event of the past decade is ending its run. The Howard Center’s ninth-annual Curling Challenge, held Saturday at Cairns Arena, was the last for the organization that provides mental-health, substance-use and developmental services for Chittenden County residents.

Martie Majoros, assistant director of communications for the Burlington-based nonprofit, said the Howard Center Curling Challenge has been successful, raising about $50,000 a year for the organization. The event will have raised nearly $500,000 overall by the time Saturday’s final numbers are in.

The downside, though, comes down to other numbers. “As you can see from the set-up it’s somewhat limited for the number of people who can play,” Majoros said Saturday at Cairns Arena. “It’s 32 teams.”

With four players per team, that adds up to 128 people who can take part in the day-long event. Should the Howard Center embark on a similar fundraiser, Majoros said it would likely involve larger representation from the community.

One team won each of the four rounds Saturday. A squad named Curl Jam, representing the Essex Junction company Flex-A-Seal, won its round late Saturday morning.

Kyle Welcome of Colchester, a member of Curl Jam, was excited to see the U.S. gold-medal curling victory last month.

“I’ve been a fan of curling since I started doing this here, so I actually watched quite a bit of it,” said Welcome, who has been with the Flex-A-Seal curling team for five years. “I thought it was pretty amazing. It’s great for the sport, it’s great for America, it’s great for Flex-A-Seal, great for events like this. I think maybe with that win it will grow the sport maybe a little bit.”

Sitko of the Green Mountain Curling Club has already seen signs of that growth thanks to the Olympics. “It puts the U.S. on the map a little” in curling, Sitka said, noting that Shuster has been the dominant force in American curling in recent years but “less than spectacular” on the Olympic stage until now. “It’s great to see U.S. curling get competitive.”

The competition is great, Sitko said, but the camaraderie is even better.

“It’s a social sport. As much as it’s competitive it’s social,” he said, as participants will work hard to try to beat each other and then pal around after they’re done.

“You’re frustrated, you’re competitive and you want to win,” he said, “and then you’re done and it’s a release.”


Information from: The Burlington Free Press,