5 October 2018

Curling back where it belongs in Omaha

Jake Isaacson, left, manager of the Ak-Sar-Ben Race Track poses with Darwin Curtis, of the Chicago Curling Club.

The story behind Omaha's curling heritage

The arrival of the Curling World Cup in Omaha will build on a rich heritage for the sport in the Nebraskan city, which has been a thriving hub of curling activity for over 60 years.

We have delved into the history of curling in Omaha, discovering the people behind its heritage and why United States in particular will be eager to head back to a place which has more cows than people.

The Aksarben Curling Club (yes, Aksarben is Nebraska spelt backwards) was founded in Omaha in 1958 at the Baxter Arena.

The club welcomes more than 500 new curlers each year – more than double that number during an Olympic year – and its success has even inspired a local brewery to produce a beer dedicated to the Aksarben Curling Club.

Nebraska Brewing Company released Sliding Stones Scotch Ale and club members have plenty of reasons to sink a few bottles of the local brew this year as they celebrate their 60th anniversary.

Professional ice hockey team Omaha Knights disbanded in 1951. At that time, Darwin Curtis, from the Chicago Curling Club, arrived in Omaha and attempted to fill the ice hockey void by popularising curling. He succeeded in doing so.

The old barn at Ak-Sar-Ben housed many bonspiels from 1960-2000.

Omahans started to use a barn – previously an old fire station - opposite the hockey arena, which was usually home to cows and stacks of hay and come curling season would be cleared out to play. Eventually, pipes were brought in to freeze ice.

The club produced players and teams that competed in national competitions. Omaha’s own Andy Roza skipped his rink to World Junior Championship bronze medals in 1999 and 2001, beating Team Gushue in the round robin stage.

The familiar family passage in curling is as relevant in Omaha as it is anywhere else, with Andy’s brother, Chad, now running the junior programme at the club.

The programme is funded by a USA Curling Association grant, otherwise known as the Darwin Curtis fund. That’s right, almost 70 years after helping Omaha get on to the ice and start curling, his impact is still felt in the city.

These days, the club is run out of Baxter Arena on the University of Nebraska’s Omaha campus. Last year, the Arena hosted the U.S. Olympic Curling Trials and NBC’s special Curling Night in America.

The two events being held at the University started a new chapter in Omaha’s connection to curling, where many of the Aksarben Curling Club players came from.

The city’s history and still-thriving curling scene make it clear to see why its Ralston Arena was chosen to host another major event in December. Who knows what will feature in its latest chapter when the Greatest Nation’s Collide in Omaha in the second leg of the Curling World Cup?

If you want to be there to watch the world’s best do battle on the ice at Omaha’s Ralston Arena in December, you can buy tickets here.

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