Not since 1887 when Grover Cleveland was president has Fort Wayne seen a curling match, but four people plan to change that starting today with the Fort Wayne Curling Club.
Fort Wayne residents Craig Fischer, Greg Eigner, Dan McCoy and Jerri Mead will host the club's first event at the new Canlan Ice Sports. The “learn to curl” event will teach attendees rules of the sport and then let them try sliding the stones in a match.
Getting ready for this first event has been a busy process for the group, though. Just this past Sunday they painted the sheets and rings on the ice and recently picked up the stones and extra equipment from Minnesota and Wisconsin, Fischer said. The interest from people wanting to play has also been very high.
The club already has a mailing list of about 250 people that have indicated an interest level of some sort, 35 who have signed up to be actual members and 75 who have signed up and paid to participate in the events or leagues the club offers, Fischer said. It has already sold out today's “learn to curl” event and its second one on June 19. It has had so much interest that it had to add a second beginners' league because the 32 spots have already been filled. If interest stays like this, Fischer says the club could reach 100 members by the end of the year.
“When someone calls my cell phone it's a 260 number, I know it's someone interested in curling,” Fischer said. “I get five or six calls a day with people that are finding out about us.”
Just finding out about each other would also be the best way to describe how the four members came together. For Mead and Fischer it started four years ago after the Turino Winter Olympics. After watching curling on television, Mead turned to her husband Fischer and said she wanted to try it.
The couple found the nearest club online to be in Bowling Green, Ohio, but once the club stopped having Sunday sessions they had to quit. That didn't mean they would give up because Mead enjoyed the game, but also that it gave her the chance to play a sport with her autistic son.
“At least in my experience with my son, you aren't going to take him out and play baseball, but the thing with curling is we could take him and he could participate and really enjoy it,” Mead said.
The couple then looked into starting curling at the McMillen Ice Arena, but hockey filled the two rinks for the most part. It also looked into Glenbrook, but that didn't work out, Fischer said.
At this point everything started to fall into place for the couple. Fischer then went online and found a Fort Wayne Curling Club website and Facebook page already existed. The pages were created by McCoy who then introduced the couple to Eigner, who has competed at the national level.
The four then found out about the new Canlan facility and had the facility host the club.
The club will offer various leagues with beginners' leagues, winter and fall leagues. It has five teaching sessions set up for $20 or $25 depending on membership, which costs $100 for a year or $250 for a family.
As its numbers grow, so too does the hope of its founders. The group hopes to eventually offer a senior league, children's league, wheelchair league and deaf curling league. The group already is working to have at least one member of the Paralympics curling team come down for an event.
“I would like our club to be able to support that and be able to help people realize their dreams, whether that's coming out with their family and having a wholesome game on a Saturday night or if you want to go to the Olympics,” Mead said. “Fort Wayne, we have what it takes to do that. We don't have a huge curling center in the United States, but we could be that if we wanted to.”