- Associated Press - Saturday, February 4, 2017

LAKEVILLE, Minn. (AP) - Tom Born had one modest goal for his introduction to curling.

“I just want to stay upright,” the 51-year-old Sun Country Airlines pilot said before stepping onto the ice one night last week at Dakota Curling, the first metro-area curling rink south of the river.

Born is one-fourth of his curling team - his wife, Jennifer, and their Lakeville neighbors Mike and Kristi Portugue are the others - who decided to take up the sport at the rink, which opened Jan. 13, the Pioneer Press (https://bit.ly/2jV8uai ) reported. The team’s tongue-in-cheek name: “The Born Curlers.”

“I’m a southerner, so this is a novelty for me,” Jennifer Born said.

She is not alone. Since September, when Dakota Curling announced its plan to open the Lakeville rink, the club’s membership has more than tripled - from 125 to nearly 400 - with about half the players brand new to the sport, said Darcy Ellarby, club president.

“It’s exciting,” Ellarby said, “because I personally really love teaching curling; it’s one of my favorite aspects of the sport. I like seeing people’s eyes light up when they realize they can do it, and also when they also realize that it’s so much harder than it looks on TV.”

Dakota Curling, a nonprofit organization, rented ice on Sundays at Burnsville Ice Center for the past decade. In September, the club signed a 20-year lease for the new space in Holyoke Plaza where Total Hockey Minnesota had been running its training programs.

The space, which was a grocery store before Total Hockey Minnesota took it over, has been retrofitted for the club by the building’s owner at a cost of about $750,000, Ellarby said. The club invested $250,000 for ice-making equipment.

Dakota Curling is a volunteer-run operation. To get the rink ready, dozens of club members laid carpet tile, painted and built benches. Members also run the day-to-day tasks.

The rink has six curling sheets, each about 15 feet wide. Giant windows allow spectators to watch the action from a large club room, where a bar and food service will be offered soon.

“Curling is a sport that is very highly social,” Ellarby said.

Having its own facility allows the club to increase membership and build cash reserves, which are generated through membership fees and league play, Ellarby said. It costs $60 a year to join the club and $150 for each 8-week session.

“Otherwise, we have a two-hour, learn-to-curl class, and you don’t need to be a member for that,” Ellarby said.

Because it’s a space dedicated solely to curling, the ice is better, she said. Unlike the shared ice in Burnsville, the group now controls environmental factors - subtle things such as air temperature, humidity and air flow that affect the ice quality and, therefore, the game.

“Getting into a building for us is like night and day,” she said. “(The ice) is faster. It’s much more level. We’re getting a predictable curl in both directions. It’s really nice.”

Downtown Lakeville has been a great fit, she said, with its historic charm along with three restaurants and two brew pubs within walking distance of the rink.

“We are not out in the middle of an industrial park or someplace where we’d be isolated from the community,” she said. “We are very deeply embedded.”

Ellarby and her husband, Paul, formed Dakota Curling in 2006 to offer new players a place to learn the game, in response to interest driven by the Olympics. At the time, the St. Paul Curling Club was the only one in the metro area.

Over the past decade, three other curling rinks have sprung up - at Biff Adams Ice Arena in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood; at Fogerty Arena in Blaine; and at the Chaska Curling Center, opened by the city in December 2015 and drawing more than 1,000 curlers.

Justin Haffner has been a member of the Frogtown Curling Club for the past five years. He wanted to curl more - and Dakota Curling is close to his Apple Valley home.

“When I saw this was opening up, I jumped on it,” the 37-year-old Wells Fargo analyst said. “This is a sport that I just encourage people to try. It’s like anything - if you want to take it super seriously, you can. But for the most part, people are pretty laid back and stay within themselves and just want to have some fun.”

Teens are also showing interest in curling, Ellarby said. An open house at Dakota Curling last week drew 40 students from Lakeville North and South high schools, both of which offer curling as an independent sport.

“Kids will be able to letter in curling through the schools,” Ellarby said. “That’s so cool.”


Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, https://www.twincities.com

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