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John Beebe

President, Kalamazoo Curling Club

When the athletes for USA Curling’s Mixed Doubles National Championship — including a few Olympians — slide into town at the end of this month for a week of competition, the event and all the work leading up to it will have been planned and executed by the all-volunteer Kalamazoo Curling Club.
John Beebe, who is in his third year as president of the 135-member club, says this isn’t the club’s first foray into hosting national competitions.

“We’ll be hosting our fourth national event here in Kalamazoo,” he says, noting that the club hosted the men’s and women’s curling nationals in 2010, 2015 and 2019. “There’ll be some of the best here — John Schuster and Matt Hamilton, who were on the 2018 Olympic team that won gold, plus Chris Plys — all competing at the highest level in the United States right here in Kalamazoo. It’s really cool.”

Beebe notes that the event is an ideal time for the curling-curious to check out the sport and the club.

“You know, a lot of people are intrigued by it,” says the 54-year-old, who has been a club member since 2010, “but taking that first step is a different matter. We have a lot of different, fun formats for people to take advantage of, from leagues to Learn 2 Curl classes. And it doesn’t cost much to get involved, because we initially provide all of the equipment.”

Why did you become involved in curling?

I was just intrigued by the sport, seeing it on the Olympics and some of the tournaments in Canada, where curling is hugely popular. It’s a sport where there’s a lot of strategy, but you have to be athletic too, or at least it helps (he laughs).

I played volleyball with Steve Ragotzy — he and his wife, Krista, are curlers — and he was telling me about curling and that they have it here in Kalamazoo, so I tried it out. I attended a Learn 2 Curl (class), and it was fun. A lot of people get hooked on it when they try it. Plus, I really like the social aspect of it.

How has the club changed since it was started in 2008?

When I joined, there was only one or maybe two leagues. Now we’re running six leagues on five different days of the week — some are more competitive than others, some are more social — and we have special events on Saturdays. We even have a juniors league for kids ages 11 to 18, and younger kids from ages 5 up to 10 can come curl for free on Saturday mornings.

Unlike many other curling clubs in the region, we have a dedicated ice facility. From 2008 to 2014 we were what’s called an “arena” facility, which meant we shared the ice with hockey and skaters. We would have to haul all the equipment and those 44-pound rocks off the ice after every session (each game uses 16 rocks). We did a big fundraising effort and worked it out with Wings (Event Center) to have a dedicated space that we lease each year. When we got dedicated ice, it just made a world of difference for us. We have five sheets to play on, the equipment stays out all the time, and we have better tools for prepping the ice. It’s like getting a larger computer monitor — you can’t go back to a smaller one. We love the dedicated ice here.

What is the curling rock made of?

It’s a specific kind of polished granite that comes from only one place in the world, which is Ailsa Craig, Scotland. That’s where all the curling stones in the world are made.

Is there a limitless supply of this granite?

(He laughs.) Yeah, I’ve always kind of wondered that too. Apparently they’re not worried about it. There are different kinds of granite, which can influence weight. And since the stones are all shaped the same, you want that weight to be fairly consistent within a set of rocks. Otherwise, when you’re throwing them and expecting them to do certain things, if they were different weights, you’d have even more of a difficult time. It would be like playing with different-size golf balls or something like that.

Tell me about the social aspect of the club.

In addition to the leagues and open curling night, we have special events called bonspiels (curling tournaments held on party-filled weekends), which we call spiels. We have just one big one each year with other clubs, but then we have these one-day intraclub spiels that are always themed around a holiday. We have an Ugly Sweater Spiel for Christmas, we have a Halloween Spiel where people curl in costumes where we’ve had everything from sumo wrestlers to a giant, inflatable Tyrannosaurus Rex out on the ice. They’re pretty funny to watch trying to get in the hack (the starting position) and delivering the stone.

We also have a Valentine’s Day Spiel called the iHeart Curling Spiel and Chili Cookoff, because we can’t just do curling, we have to drink some beverages and have a chili cookoff at the same time.

These spiels are also an opportunity for us to raise money or collect clothing items or toys for other nonprofit organizations. We have given donations to organizations like Toys for Tots, the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission and others. Our members love to help out our community. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s meaningful for us too.

Marie Lee

Marie is the editor of Encore Magazine and vice president of Encore Publications, Inc. She’s been at the helm of Encore since October 2011. Marie’s background covers the gamut; she’s a former newspaper reporter and editor, a public relations and marketing communications professional, and book editor and collaborator. As Encore’s editor, she is dedicated to bringing the best things about the greater Kalamazoo community to the magazine’s readers.

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