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Sam Hoffman
As Jennifer Witschen of the Dakota Curling Club releases her stone, teammates Beth Lundquist, left, and Julie Wennberg prepare to sweep Sunday at Lutheran Health SportsCenter. Their team, from Burnsville, Minn., was taking on the San Francisco Bay Area club for the Curling Association Arena Club National Championship. Nineteen men's and 13 women's teams from around the U.S. competed in the four-day event.

Local ice "fantastic" for national curling tournament

Tournament workers and members of the Fort Wayne Curling Club took special care of the ice at the Lutheran Health SportsCenter over the weekend.

And for the teams playing in the U.S. Curling Association Arena Club National Championship tournament, it made a difference.

"The condition of the ice has been fantastic," said Darcy Ellarby, the skip or captain of the team from the Dakota Curling Club, which made it to the finals on Sunday. "(In arena curling) the quality is really critical."

Arena curling isn't at the level of Olympic curling, which happens in dedicated curling facilities. Arena curling teams use mixed-use facilities like Lutheran Health SportsCenter, which is also used for hockey and figure skating.

Throughout the four-day tournament, teams of four took to the ice sending stones down to the other side of the rink to get the most stones closest to a four-ringed target. Team members called sweepers sweep to clear debris and alter the ice to achieve the desired distance. Some refer to curling as shuffleboard on ice, but "there's a lot more to it than that," Craig Fischer, president of the Fort Wayne Curling Club, said.

The final matches began about 30 minutes later than their noon start time to allow workers to prepare the ice for the finals, in which two teams from the men's and women's divisions faced off.

The event is in its inaugural year and was created by the national association to give clubs the chance to compete on a national level, Fischer said. Fort Wayne was chosen as the host site through a bid process. The bid was put together by the club in partnership with Visit Fort Wayne and the Lutheran Health SportsCenter.

Fischer said he heard nothing but positive feedback on the arena and its ice quality.

John Myers traveled to the city from Austin, Texas, with his team, the Lone Star Curling Club. He stayed to watch the final matches, along with about 75 other spectators. He said his team doesn't play on ice of great quality but the ice for this weekend's tournament was the "best ice I've ever seen."

Teams traveled from all over the country, bringing about 160 people to the city to dine in local restaurants and stay in local hotels, Fischer said.

Visit Fort Wayne spokesman John Felts said the city has tried to expand its reach into different sports like curling, made popular by its exposure in the Olympics.

"We have a strong, local club here that's very passionate," Felts said. "We've been working with groups to bring events like this and sell the city for what it offers."