Spirit Hall to Host National Curling Tournament
Next year at this time, the Campbell County Parks and Rec Department ice arena crew won’t be working on the end-of-the-season maintenance at the Spirit Hall Ice Arena. Instead, they’ll be gearing up to host USA Curling’s 2020 Arena National Championships, which will also be the first major curling championship held in the state.
“It’s kind of cool a community of our size was awarded such a huge tournament,” said Ice Arena Manager Fred Neugebauer. “It’s a pretty big deal.”
A big deal, especially considering the community’s first rec league curling season began in November 2018.
Neugebauer said he had been trying to get curling started in Gillette for a few years and was able to attend a class while at an ice arena conference last year titled Curling in a Multi-purpose Facility, taught by Kevin Madsen, who is the lead ice tech for all USA Curling’s National events.
For the first few months, curling at the Rockpile Ice Arena was free and open to anyone who wanted to give it a try. However, the season ended with between 70 and 80 players competing in the league.
“It’s more physical than you think,” Neugebauer admitted, referring to the bending, stooping, and sweeping involved.
The sport of curling, a combination of bowling, billiards, and shuffle board played on ice, first came to the United States around 1832. In 1924, curling was a medaled sport in the first Winter Olympics held in France. Although a unique attraction, it didn’t catch on and wasn’t recognized as a medaled sport in the Olympics again until 1998.
Neugebauer jokingly asked Madsen to come to Gillette to help install the curling rink the first time. He was shocked when his friend and mentor not only agreed, but brought along his friend George Phillips, owner of Dakota Curling Supplies out of North Dakota. Phillips was also the lead curling official during the Salt Lake City Olympics.
After setting up for curling at the Rockpile Ice Arena, Neugebauer gave the pair a tour of Spirit Hall. Madsen remarked, “You guys could easily hold a national event here.”
This year’s Nationals is being hosted in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and the previous year was held in Las Vegas.
Neugebauer presented the idea to Cam-Plex, who took care of the application process.
“For us as a parks and rec department, nothing could be better than this to promote local curling in our community,” Neugebauer said. “[Hosting Nationals] will hopefully grow our program and sustain it.”
More than 40 teams are expected to participate in the tournament at Spirit Hall April 26 through May 2, 2020.
“With Gillette’s historic association with piles of rocks already well established, we are excited about the possibilities as we bring a slightly different twist to town,” said Rick Patzke, USA Curling’s CEO. “Our thanks go out to the Cam-Plex and local curlers and the community overall for making this happen.”
Neugebauer said it will take between 40 to 50 local volunteers to make the event possible.