Maybe it was the sauerkraut, and maybe it was the skill of the participants, but Arlington Curling Club curlers won the Kraut Spiel on March 9 that has been going on for — most old-timers say — more than six decades.
“I asked that question of the old guys at the curling club — the card players who show up in the morning,” said Dave Phillips, who helps to organize the bonspiel each year for ACC. “They said they think it started almost shortly after our club got organized, which was 1954.”
For those who don’t know, curling is when two teams of four players (given the titles lead, second, third, and skip) participate in a curling match. Each player slides round stones, concave on the bottom and with a handle on the top, across the ice of a rink or a natural ice field toward the tee, or button. Each team tries to get more of its stones closer to the button than the other team. A curling tournament is known as a bonspiel, or spiel for short.
But why is the Kraut Spiel called something which could be offensive to those of German heritage?
“The name came because the primary food in the afternoon is kraut,” Phillips said, referring to sauerkraut, which is what Arlington was known for back in the 1950s because of the Stokely (later Del Monte) Canning Factory where sauerkraut was canned with cabbage picked right off the fields in Arlington.
For the Kraut Spiel, both ACC and Madison Curling Club (MCC) provide an equal number of curlers and the event begins around 9:30 a.m. after both clubs enjoy a pancake breakfast.
“We just have a general sign-up and then create the teams as we go,” Phillips said.
Both clubs have a rich tradition of curling, especially the Madison Curling Club, which is now based in a state-of-the-art facility in McFarland.
The MCC dates back to 1921, when some University of Wisconsin professors and Madisonians made one sheet of ice under the stadium bleachers at Camp Randall on the campus of the UW-Madison. The early curlers each had their own set of stones and, therefore, uniform size and performance of stones was virtually nonexistent. The club was located under the Camp Randall bleachers from 1921-29.
In 1930, the club received permission from the City of Madison to build a wooden building with casement windows at Burr Jones Field on East Washington Avenue. Ice was made when the weather was cold enough, due to lack of artificial ice making equipment.
In 1950, a cement block 18-by-45 foot clubroom with a small kitchen was added and artificial ice making equipment was installed under the sand of the four sheets. In 1958 the wooden walls of the rink house were replaced with cement blocks and the men’s locker room and the clubroom were expanded. Expansion of the men’s locker room took place in 1964, along with the addition of a women’s locker room.
The MCC was at the East Washington Avenue location for 79 years, but in September, 1997, the MCC moved into its current, six sheet facility in McFarland.
Unlike other sports, curling is a game of skill and fellowship, with traditions that began in Scotland and continuing in worldwide competitions to this day. “Curlers play to win,” 1943 and 1944 MCC President H.T. Ferguson once said, “but never to humble their opponents. A true curler would prefer to lose rather than to win unfairly.”
Fellowship is one of the reasons why Don Rottscheit, a Cottage Grove resident who is a member at MCC, curls in the Kraut Spiel.
“It’s nice to see, because I curl with some of these curls in the spring and fall leagues in Poynette,” Rottscheit said. “So I met quite a few of them through that, and I get to see them here at this event here. It’s a good time.”
The tradition of curling is not lost on Jeff Schuchardt, a Windsor resident who has curled in the event before for ACC, but this year, brought his daughter, Samantha.
“I’ve done it quite a few years. I didn’t do it last year but I have for a lot of years,” Jeff Schuchardt said. “I don’t even know how many years it’s been. I know obviously they told you the history and there even used to be a Kraut Festival in Arlington back in the day, and then, this kind of overlapped into that.”
“This has always been a good competition — Ryder Cup-type-ish — but on a lesser set, but total points so every game counts and you play them out,” Jeff Schuchardt said.
That spirit and tradition continues today, said Schuchardt, who started curling at the old MCC on East Washington Avenue. In fact, when the new MCC facility was constructed in McFarland, he hung all the doors and the cabinets in the kitchen.
“I think almost every club that I’ve been to — and I’ve been to a lot of them — the hospitality is overwhelming. You can see by the food they’re serving here, it’s pretty good,” Schuchardt said. “But a curling bonspiel is good competition and good camaraderie afterwards — that’s the whole key. Very seldom do you see that it’s not that way.
“I was just up at Senior Nationals, and you sit down with the teams afterwards and we had a beer and socialized. It’s still the same way,” Schuchardt said. “And I think it’s still a pretty close-knit community. It’s not that big of a sport to where it’s all over — it’s still that smaller community.”
Jeff’s daughter, Samantha, is a relative newcomer to the sport.
“This is my second year, but my first year at the Kraut Spiel,” Samantha Schuchardt said. When asked why she signed up, she said, “To be with Dad, and to curl with Dad. It’s a one-day thing so not too much of a commitment, and a fun time.”
“It’s just a fun day,” Jeff Schuchardt said, adding that friends and family will come to watch. “We’ve got a lot of people watching and it’s just some good fun.”
One of the ACC league curlers who has no problem having fun, by reputation, is Ron Lovick.
“This is probably my fifth or sixth time I’ve done this,” Lovick said, adding that he knows people from MCC from years of curling. “After you curl, you sit down and socialize for a few minutes . . . and you get to know these folks. You get to know their families, where they live — it’s really unique that way. You don’t do that in every sport.”
While there is a traveling trophy, Lovick said he hasn’t seen it often. “But this year — we’re bringing it home,” he said with a laugh.
Phillips agreed. “It’s a friendly competition, which Madison has been dominating in the past, but Arlington has had its day.”
While it has been a friendly rivalry, Phillips also recalled an 8-ender thrown by Arlington against a Madison team when the facility was still located near Burr Jones Field.
“This has gone through one Arlington facility and two facilities in Madison,” Phillips said about the Kraut Spiel.
Phillips was also in charge of the namesake recipe for the event.
“I’m a little nervous about it because I’m flying out on a plane at 4 o’clock tonight. I brought a whole change of clothes,” Phillips said, laughing, “because, you know, I don’t want to smell like sauerkraut. I was cooking that yesterday and I smoked the pork last week and this week.”
While not calling it traditional, Phillips said the recipe has been handed down to him since Bernie Dusheck turned over the organization of the Kraut Spiel to him about six years ago. He smoked about 20 pounds of pork shoulder and roasted another eight pounds. Two full Nesco cookers, and 3.5 gallons of sauerkraut, slow cook in the kitchen at MCC while the curlers are competing. With butter and brown sugar added in, “it’s on the sweet side,” Phillips said.
“The recipe has changed over the years,” Phillips said. “The recipe has been handed down. I modified it a little bit — we don’t put as much butter and brown sugar in as we used to. Some people like it better and some don’t — it’s hard to say.”
After 12 games of curling, the event was decided — and this year, ACC curlers came out on top, winning six games to 5, with one game a tie.
“Congrats to all those that participated in the Kraut spiel today!” ACC President Tom Hoffman said in an email noting Arlington teams won. “Glad to see this great tradition continued as it’s always a great time!”