Waltham Curling Club center of the sport for over a century
The Waltham Curling Club in Triumph, Illinois, has been part of the local community for over 130 years.
The oldest curling club in the state, it was started in 1884 by John Currie from Scotland, originally playing on simple lakes and ponds in the area.
It has since grown to 120 members -- and the curlers now play inside -- but the club still keeps the original spirit of its founder alive in a multitude of ways. First, the sport of curling is open to just about anyone.
"We have people that have curled for 50 years or more," Steve Parke, the membership administrator at Waltham, recently told Illinois Valley Times. "We have new people every year, and we have people as old as 90 who curl, and we have a new juniors program that we started about three years ago, so we even have a number of kids who are 9,10, 11 years old."
Second, the group still has an original medal that Currie sent over from Scotland that is awarded as a winner's trophy. The teams at Waltham still play for that very same medal today in the end-of-year championship. Before the title event at the season's conclusion, however, the club has a wide variety of matches -- or bonspiels, as they are called in curling lingo -- that it plays throughout the regular season.
"We have several events that we play during the year," Parke said. "At the beginning and end of the year, we have a men's tournament. During the year, we have various leagues. We have mixed leagues on Wednesdays and Sundays, and then we have men's leagues on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The juniors have their program on Sundays."
The club makes a concerted effort to continue to keep the sport open to everyone; as such, it organizes its leagues in a way that matches up the experienced players with the less experienced ones in the name of not only fairness, but to also allow players of all levels to continue to develop their skills.
"We do our leagues in a rather interesting fashion, which makes it very open to new members," Parke said. "Depending on how many people want to play in our leagues, we select the captains, who are generally the better players, and then have a schoolyard pick of the other players. Even as a beginner, you get placed on a team with experienced players who are open to teaching the game, helping to learn strategy, learning sweeping techniques. Beginners can get in, get on a team and learn the game very quickly."
The club is well-known in the curling community, as Waltham had a number of curlers over the years go on to national or junior national tournaments. It's also hosted the United States Women's Curling Association on its senior bonspiel and is currently working with the St. Louis Curling Club on a fundraising bonspiel.
Debbie McCormick, who has curled on the U.S. team during several Olympics games, will be bringing along a team at that event.
Even with such a top pedigree, Waltham still maintains a focus on opening up the sport to new members, and it's this ambassadorship of the game that's had the club thriving for well over a century now.
"We're always open to new curlers, young or old," Parke said. "We're open to groups. One of the things we do on weekends is we open the club to school groups, church groups, work groups to come in, and we teach the folks how to curl. It's an easy sport for anybody to learn. It's typically a finesse sport, so it doesn't require a lot of strength, so kids can play with adults, men can play with women because strength is not really a competitive advantage. We have a lot of older curlers, so youth is not a requirement. We're always interested in new members."