Central Illinois curling club is one of Midwest's oldest

Romancing the stone

By Marc Strauss

July 15, 2010 Updated Feb 17, 2010 at 8:05 PM CST

It's as much a curiosity as it is a game.

"It's been compared to a lot things, bochi ball, bowling, shuffle board," said curler Pete Carmichael.

Said to have first been played in Scotland, the sport of curling is more than 450 years old. And Carmichael plays itat the oldest curling club in Illinois, the Waltham Curling Club in the tiny town of Triumph, population 9,200.

Alan Wilson's been throwing stones there for almost 60 years.

"I was born into it," said Wilson, whose known around the club by the nickname Slim.

"My dad played, his dad played and his dad played. I'm the fourth generation that's played in the Wilson family."

Wilson points to an old picture that hangs on one of the walls of the club. It's a photo of members of the Waltham Curling Club from some 60 or 70 years ago. In the picture are his father and grandfather. And they're standing on a frozen over pond. In those days the club played outdoors.

What started over a century ago on Johnson's Pond has given way to a state of the art indoor facility. There are usually three games going on simultaneously on a sheet of ice kept at an optimum 23 degrees.

The object of the game is to get as many of your team's stones closer to the center of the target than your opponent. For each stone you do that you get a point. Each game last 10 ends, which are like innings in baseball. And each player gets two throws per end. The stones are made of granite and weigh about 40 pounds.

"It just takes practice," said Mary Lou Schmoas. "It's like golf in a way. A lot of golfers are curlers. Curlers are golfers. It's just a feel for the game."

"I'm a pretty competitive person myself, but what I like about it is it's individual, yet team oriented," said Rachel Raley. "There's always room for improvement. Nobody is perfect at it so you can always get better and better."

Some members of the Waltham Curing Club live as far as 100 miles away. But that's nothing compared to the distance a man named John Currie traveled when he first brought the game to Central Illinois from Scotland and established the club in 1884.

"He came over to visit relatives," said Wilson. "While he was here they made wooden blocks and they played on the Tomahawk Creek and wherever they could find ice. When he left he decided that he would like to see the game made permanent, so he said he would send a medal back for them to play for. About a year later (Currie) sent the medal over and we've been playing for it ever since."

That medal is prominently displayed in one of Waltham's trophy cases. It is perhaps the club's most important piece of history, aside from the game itself.

"There's a tradition you want to carry on," said Carmichael. "You want to try and keep the game alive."

And almost every night, from November through March, the game doesn't just live here, it thrives.