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Minot Curling Club itching to start season following lengthy delay

Ryan Ladika/MDN Minot Curling Club was finally able to begin its season this week after a stoppage that began in late November.

It may have taken longer than most would have liked, but sports have slowly reappeared and innovated new ways to operate amidst the global pandemic. Professional, college and local sports leagues and teams have all needed to patiently wait for their chance to return to action.

The Minot Curling Club is among those activities that were required to undergo a prolonged stoppage. Mark Hildahl, one of the club’s leading members, has been raring to get underway since the season’s scheduled start at the end of last November.

Curling runs on a similar schedule as other winter sports, such as basketball or hockey, if a bit shorter. The campaign was supposed to start near the end of November and run through the conclusion of March, with the Shirtsleeve Bonspiel serving as the season’s finale.

Due to protocols enacted to combat the spread of COVID-19, though, Hildahl and his club were forced to put their schedule on hold until the first week of January.

Now, with clearance to proceed, the club is charging ahead with an altered January-to-April slate, with proper etiquette in place to keep people safe, of course.

“Right now, it’s spacing that happens naturally on the ice,” Hildahl said when referring to safety measures the club is taking. “Curling is a very social sport, so we’re trying to keep people separated while they’re on the ice. They’re wearing masks, we’re sanitizing the surfaces and we’re limiting a little bit our socializing afterward. Each person makes their own decision on that.”

Naturally, Hildahl is hoping that as the pages are torn off the calendar and vaccines become more widely distributed that restrictions can be lightened, and the club can go back to a more normal curling environment.

What can those in the community expect from the club in the meantime? There’s a little something for everyone, whether one is a veteran curler or a novice, Hildahl is hoping to see as many people as is safe participate in the upcoming season.

“It’s an experience for a lot of those folks who’ve never tried curling, been near curling, or maybe even seen it,” he said. “They’re getting a chance to be exposed to curling, and if they find it’s something that interests them in the future they may join our regular leagues, too.”

The club even sets aside Tuesday nights specifically for Minot Air Force Base members and their families.

“This year we’re providing a league for Air Base personnel that’s been organized by some folks from the Air Base,” Hildahl added. “They’re curling on Tuesday nights, and that’s 40 curlers, 10 teams with four people on each team, minimum. They’ve got a lot of success and they’re just getting that going.”

For those who aren’t members of the Air Force Base, there’s plenty of time to get to the club during the rest of the week.

“Our regular membership will curl on one of the nights or more on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday night,” Hildahl said. “Those are our regular leagues, they start at 7 p.m. those evenings.”

The fun doesn’t stop there, as the club also hosts special tournaments on the weekends. Some of those events see up to 30 or 40 teams at a time that curl through the night and into the early morning hours.

“Winterfest Bonspiel is held and hosted by the Sunrise Rotary Club, they’ll host several people over Fridays and Saturdays here in February, during the second week in February,” Hildahl added. “We’ll host an end-of-the-year Bonspiel Curling Tournament for up to 40 teams.”

Special “learn to curl” events are also hosted on Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., as the volunteer-led club wants to ensure it has the rookies covered as well. Such events go hand-in-hand with the family-like atmosphere Hildahl and the rest of the members have cultivated.

There are no full-time staff members in the traditional sense who make the club run so smoothly. Instead, the club functions as a volunteer group that sees most of, if not all, of its members contribute to help operate the club, make and maintain the ice, organize the leagues, collect dues, and operate special events.

“We have no employees,” Hildahl remarked. “So we rely on all of our members to pitch in a little bit and help.”

They’ll need a lot of it, especially as the club makes its return in such extraordinary circumstances.

As the members move forward with the premiere of the new season, Hildahl is excited to finally be getting back on the ice. 2020 has taught society to appreciate what people have while it’s around, and that’s the attitude the members are taking at Minot Curling Club.

“Success for us would be to finish the season,” he said, “and allow people to finish their leagues and participate on a weekly basis without interruption. To feel safe coming down here and have an opportunity to enjoy the sport and the camaraderie that goes with it.”

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