Iced Out

The Denver Curling Club searches for respect after five years without a home.

That winter, the club tried to find pleasure in events scheduled at the temporary rink erected by the sports center. It was humiliating, frankly. They were permitted to play on the ice when the facility's junior B hockey team had away games, every other Saturday night at 9 p.m. That was shameful enough, but then the Family Sports Center only permitted the curlers to draw their targets with tiny, quarter-inch lines, instead of the regulation one-foot-wide circles.

And it was a hockey rink, for God's sake. Hockey ice, when skated down, is not even. Like a muddy football field, it gets worn in the middle but is left relatively unscathed at the edges. "The stones go all over the place," Deleff says morosely. "We did parties, and it was nice and social. But the curling was...let's just say there is no competitive curling game when you play on hockey ice."

The following year, in 1997, the Family Sports Center opened a brand-new rink. It was used for hockey, but at least it was ice, thought an increasingly desperate Deleff. "Everyone who was a customer at the previous rink was promised that they would have time on the new one," Deleff recalls. "But they didn't give us any. We called and called them, and they didn't even return calls."

Caught between a rock and a hard place: Doug Deleff's curling club is on ice.
Jonathan Castner
Caught between a rock and a hard place: Doug Deleff's curling club is on ice.

No respect.

It is an irony not lost on Deleff that at the same time the Denver Curling Club was scrambling for a piece of ice to call its own, the sport of ice hockey was exploding. That same year, two new rinks were opened at Lowry, right next to where the curling club was to have had its own facility. "They promised to send schedules," Deleff says. "But we never got to the point where they even were willing to give us a price for time."

In 1998, the City of Westminster asked voters to approve a bond measure to borrow money to build three new ice rinks. The Denver Curling Club quickly sent off a letter of intent promising to rent time at the proposed facilities -- a promise the city used, among others, to sell the issue to voters. "But once the rinks went up they said, 'Sorry, you don't fit into our plans,'" Deleff says bitterly. "We got squat when they opened." (Actually, the club got some satisfaction. "A former curler was ice manager there, so, unlike many other rinks, at least we got some contact with Westminster," Deleff says. "At least they said no to us.")

Other deals have fallen through or failed to materialize, too -- in Highlands Ranch, near Mile High Stadium, in old downtown Aurora, in Lakewood. The club has approached garden centers (the typically long, skinny buildings would fit curling sheets nicely) and golf courses (the curlers could store equipment there in the summer when people golfed and then curl in the winter when the golfers rested) and the Irish-American Club, which was big on enthusiasm but short on an actual site.

In all, by Deleff's reckoning, there have been sixty sites considered, and sixty sites failed. "We were involved in almost every ice project on the boards from its inception," he sighs, now tired and depressed. "At this point we can't even rent ice at a facility. They won't even talk to us. I can't tell you the number of phone calls we've made to hockey rinks asking for ice time, and then not even getting a call back."

There have been a few outlets, places to release the curling bug, although none have materialized without considerable effort. A couple of years ago a few members traveled to Pueblo, where the tiny Colorado Springs curling club had finally managed to rent some ice time. Some Denver members have traveled to Omaha, the closest place with genuine sheets, to curl.

Last winter, the Denver club planned an event at Evergreen Lake. It was lousy ice, but at least it was something cold and relatively flat. The night before, when they drove to the mountains, it was clear and crisp. They painted their targets and set the hacks. But the next day dawned sunny and warm, a brilliant Colorado winter day. The circles melted away, and the event was canceled. This winter has been so warm the club didn't even try to curl outside.

"If we had our own facility, we'd have more people than we knew what to do with," Deleff predicts. Indeed, the final winter the club occupied the Commerce City building, the City of Aurora bused in hundreds of kids to see what curling was all about. "They couldn't get the kids back on the bus, they liked it so much," he recalls.

There is something about the civility (international rules ban smoking in curling facilities, as well as -- a little more perplexing -- "performance-enhancing" drugs) and accessibility of the game that appeals to people, he says. "You don't have to be a particular physical shape or size to compete. It's physically active without being strenuous, and it's very, very social. And it's a sport where, if you get good at it, the chances of you going far are very good."

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