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TC Curling Club hosts opening day of USA Curling Mixed Doubles National Championship tournament

Feb. 28—TRAVERSE CITY — Lowell Gruman called last year's opening of the Traverse City Curling Club and Tuesday's opening ceremonies of the USA Curling Mixed Doubles National Championship tournament at that very same venue the realization of a "long-held and hard-fought dream."

Gruman, the treasurer for the TC Curling Club Board of Directors, spoke to a packed house ahead of the national tournament and said the purpose of the club is to "come together, build community and spread our passion for curling far beyond the boundaries of northern Michigan."

The members and volunteers certainly seem to be doing that, and Tuesday provided a great example of how far the curling club has come since its inception nearly a decade ago.

"I'm kind of tingly, to be honest," Traverse City Curling Club founder Don Piche said. "I never imagined this. I saw the value of the game as a community sport and a way for people to connect. But to have a national championship in Traverse City, that wasn't on the radar."

The formation of the TC Curling Club was the result of about a 12-year conversation between Piche and Terry Marchand, the now-former executive director of Centre Ice Arena. Piche first broached the topic with Marchand after seeing curling in the 2002 Winter Olympics. Seeing it again in 2006, Piche pushed the possibility of doing something curling-related at Centre Ice.

When the TV commercials for the 2014 Winter Olympics featured curling and Piche discovered curling was the most-watched sport in the Olympics, he went back to Marchand.

"That's when I said to Terry, 'Hey, maybe we should try this.' He looked at me and said, 'What do you have in mind?' Well, I had no idea," Piche said, laughing.

Piche started gathering information from other curling clubs in the state, reaching out to club representatives in Lewiston, Detroit, Kalamazoo, Midland and Lansing. He floated the idea of a Traverse City open house with their assistance, and 60 volunteers from around the state came to help.

"That just speaks to the community of curling," Piche said. "Five-hundred people showed up, and the next thing you know we've got a curling club."

That hard work led to last year's grand opening of the TC Curling Club at 1712 S. Garfield — a building dedicated to the play and history of the sport — and Tuesday's opening ceremonies of a national tournament.

Kevin Query, a member of the TC Curling Club Board of Directors, hearkened back to just three years ago when members had to wait until 8 o'clock at night to get league play started, taking the stones on and off the ice. Now, nearly 400 members have helped bring the club to the level it is now.

"This is not anything that just sort of fell out of the sky," Query said, adding that the club started with "a few people who wanted to throw some money in a hat and throw some curling stones."

Query said the TC Curling Club has grown from that "humble little group at Centre Ice" to now hosting a national tournament.

"In some ways, it's very surprising. In other ways, it's not," Query said. "The board members and the volunteers we have, Traverse City is an area where very smart people go to live. You see it all over the place. You get people here who are very smart with a lot of free time, so it's no surprise that when we put our heads together that the product we turn out is world-class."

Query said he hopes to have Olympic qualifying tournaments at the club in the future.

For now, they'll happily settle for having three members of the 2018 Olympic gold medal-winning Team USA men's team in attendance. Tyler George is doing commentary throughout the event for USA Curling, and both Matt Hamilton and John Shuster are competing in the event.

"Just walking into this building, it fills your heart," George said. "I grew up in a curling club. My parents ran a club when I was born, so I know that a club in your town can be a second home and bring that sense of warmth and community. That is why we're so happy to spread the sport and preach the gospel of curling."

George said the passion for curling is "extremely strong" in northern Michigan and that hosting a national tournament less than a year after opening the club's new facility is an "amazing accomplishment."

"With something you love as much as you do, you want to share that with as many people as possible," he said. "Now you continue on as ambassadors, and being a part of events like this is a big part of that."

Bret Jackson, the chair of the USA Curling Board of Directors and the United States Curling Association, said he couldn't be more thrilled that "Traverse City was able to build this fantastic facility and bring a national championship tournament with current world champions" to northern Michigan.

The 2024 Mixed Doubles National Championship will determine the strongest mixed doubles team in the nation to advance to represent the United States at the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship. The faster-paced discipline of the sport made its Olympic debut at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games and is played by teams composed of one male and one female curler.

"We're going to have top-notch competition," Jackson said. "These are some of the best curlers — not only in the United States, but in the world. We're going to have great competition but great camaraderie also."

The tournament will continue through Sunday with sessions at 9 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Saturday's sessions are set for 9 a.m. and noon before the quarterfinals at 7:30 p.m. The semifinals begin at 10 a.m. Sunday with the championship finals and third-place session slated for 4 p.m.

Tickets are sold per session, which includes four simultaneous games that last about 2 hours. Tickets are priced $5-20, and children 5 years and under are free. Student tickets for ages 6-18 are half-priced.

The national tournament likely marks the beginning of what could be a fruitful venture for the Traverse City Club.

"I don't know," Piche said with a laugh when asked what's next for the club. "But we'll come back here Monday and start right back at doing what we do best — loving on our community, reaching out and getting people to love and enjoy this game."

Piche said curling represents integrity, respect and honor.

"We need that in our world now more than ever, and we represent that in the Traverse City Curling Club," he said. "This is an emotional day."