The smell of beer, the sound of furious sweeping and the sight of a man wearing a kilt on an ice rink can only be described with one word: bonspiel.
This weekend the Kansas City Curling Club’s 11th Annual Barbeque Bonspiel at Line Creek Community Center includes curlers from across North America. The event began Friday evening and will go through Sunday. This year marks the largest bonspiel (curling tournament) the KC Curling Club has ever hosted, with 128 curlers participating in the weekend’s events, 45 of which are local players.
Bill McBride’s love for curling began when he was 10 years old and a friend asked him if he wanted to throw rocks.
Like most 10-year-olds, it was an offer McBride couldn’t turn down. To this day, McBride, 49, continues to throw stones across ice in a way that demonstrates balance and finesse, two skills that McBride said are required in curling, and skills that will be on display this weekend.
McBride, originally from Chicago, graduated from the University of Kansas. He said he used to drive three hours to curl in arenas that offered the sport, often not arriving home until 2 a.m.
“You are looking at a curling fanatic,” McBride said.
When he heard about curling clubs in Dallas and Florida, he was intrigued by the idea of bringing a club back to Kansas City after the original club stopped curling in the 1990s due to lack of ice time and funds.
In 2004, the Kansas City Curling Club played hosted its first curling tournament that consisted of 12 teams. This year, 32 teams signed up for the summer bonspiel.
Chris Sjue, of Fargo, N.D., and former United States Curling Association president, helped form the first Kansas City Curling Club in 1987 when he was stationed at Fort Leavenworth. He is curling this weekend with his team, “USA Curling Presidents.”
Sjue, 66, thinks part of the appeal of curling is the social aspect of the sport.
“You start with shaking hands and people compliment you on shots. Kind of a tradition in curling is you shake hands and then you go into the clubhouse and the winning team buys the losing team a beverage and they sit around and socialize for a while,” he said. “It’s kind of unique in that way.”
They can also be very competitive and invite only tournaments that include Olympic curlers, McBride said. Those tournaments often are played on dedicated ice, ice used for the sole purpose of curling. The Kansas City Curling Club shares ice time with other sports.
During the winter Olympics, McBride said interest in curling grows exponentially.
“Just to give you a sense of it, our web site gets maybe 10,000 visitors a year,” McBride said. “In two weeks, we get 25,000 visitors just during the Olympics.”
Four years ago during the Olympics in Vancouver, McBride said his club taught more than 600 people how to curl. They didn’t see quite as many during the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, which McBride said might have been because of the time difference between the U.S. and Russia, as well as the lack of success that the U.S. team had this year. Still, the Olympics bring attention to the sport.
“It’s a sport that even 80-year-olds are playing,” McBride said. “We have kids as young as 10. It’s a gender neutral sport; it has nothing to do with being the strongest or the fastest. It’s all about your ability for body control and finesse, and understanding; being very observant and knowing when to sweep.”
While nearly anyone can play the sport, McBride said the constant sweeping to move the stone requires more athleticism than it may seem from the outside.
“It gets the heart pumping,” he said.
Each team participating this weekend is guaranteed three games. If a team wins its third match, it will continue playing on Sunday.
The event is free and open to the public.