MAPLETON, MINN. – When Linda Annis got married, she promised to “love, honor and curl.”
That’s what happens when you marry a guy from the cradle of Minnesota curling.
OK, she was joking. But in this southern Minnesota town, they take their curling seriously. Mapleton traces its curling history back to 1857, a year before Minnesota’s statehood.
“There’s a lot of things that make it good,” said Jeff Annis, Linda’s husband, who threw his first rock at age 7. “If I want to get a few buddies and curl and have a few beverages, that’s cool. Or my wife and I can grab another couple, or my wife and two kids can curl.”
“It looks so easy, and yet to get good at it takes a little practice,” he said.
In addition to being president of the Heather Curling Club here, Jeff Annis is a former president of the Minnesota Curling Association and now represents Minnesota on the board of directors of the U.S. Curling Association.
Mapleton’s long love affair with curling began with settlers from Scotland, which claims to be the birthplace of curling. So deep does the devotion run that a country cemetery near town features several graves that use curling stones as grave markers.
More recently, Mapleton curling made international news when one of its native sons, John Landsteiner, won a gold medal with the U.S. team at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Students in the Mapleton schools learn curling as part of gym class, and most nights, the club is a hive of activity in the town of 1,700 residents.
Last week, the Rev. Steve Berkeland and his wife, Judy, were at the club for their second lesson with Linda Annis and Larry Barott, who’s been curling since about the time the current arena was built in 1950.
Steve Berkeland recently arrived in town as the new pastor at St. John Lutheran Church, and the couple figured that curling would be a good way to meet people in the community.
“I think it’s very fun,” Judy Berkeland said. “It’s so different than anything I’ve done. It’s sort of addicting.”
Linda Annis assured the Rev. Berkeland that curling doesn’t start on Sundays until 11 a.m., giving people time for church.
In curling, players slide the granite curling stones, or rocks, down a 150-foot-long sheet of ice and try to land them in the “house,” a circular target. Teams can try to knock each other’s stones out of scoring position. The strategy involved has led some to dub curling “chess on ice.”
Each team throws eight of the 42-pound stones per round, or “end.” Eight ends make up a match. Barott said the Mapleton club has been using the same stones since 1955.
As a youngster, Barott said, he and other kids were obsessed with curling. When they weren’t on the ice, they’d practice by sliding pennies along a wood floor or rolling marbles on a carpet. Today, Mapleton still holds occasional outdoor matches on a nearby lake.
“It’s interesting when it’s 20 below,” Linda Annis said.
Curling is still a niche sport, with 22,000 members of registered clubs nationwide, Jeff Annis said. But the recent Olympics has sparked interest, he added, noting that curling was the second-highest watched sport in Pyeongchang, behind only figure skating.
Though spirited competition is the norm, it’s always friendly, Barott said.
“It’s a gentleman’s sport,” he added. “It’s very cordial. You’re never cheering against your opponent, and when they make a nice shot, you tell them.”
There’s another positive aspect to curling in Minnesota, he added: “It makes the winter pass quickly.”