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Shivers, sticks and stones: Brrrmidji Plunge, pond hockey and outdoor curling all part of Winterfest (photo gallery)

The mother-daughter teams of Carol and Chelsea Lauderbaugh and Pam and Hannah Stull, dressed in KISS costumes, take the Brrrmidji Plunge on Saturday as part of Winterfest on Lake Bemidji. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 20
Landon Hoffman, Park Rapids, playing for Leesberg Cabinets, brings the puck down ice on Saturday morning. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer) 2 / 20
Dressed in gowns, Miss Northern Lakes Lizzy Thurlow (left) and Miss Bemidji Jade Hovet jump in Lake Bemidji during the Brrrmidji Plunge on Saturday afternoon as part of Winterfest on Lake Bemidji. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer) 3 / 20
Curling for the first time ever was Team Melting Pot, which included (from left) Meggie Humphreys, Alyson Allen, and skip Josefina Li, as they sweep their rock into the house Winterfest on Lake Bemidji on Saturday. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer)4 / 20
(From left) Aubrey, CJ and Rachel Driggins were ready to step in an curl for their father's team at the Winterfest on Lake Bemidji Curling Bonspiel on Saturday. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer)5 / 20
Melissa Hoover and Rob Aitken sweep duirng the Winterfest on Lake Bemidji curling bonspiel on Saturday, which drew 26 teams playing on six sheets of ice. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer) 6 / 20
A littel body langauge helps in every throw as Mike Beard ( right) throws during the Winterfest on Lake Bemidji cornhole tournament on Saturday afternoon as opponent Joey Carda waits his turn. Twenty seven teams registered to compete in the event. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer)7 / 20
Joe Emery (left) waits his turn as Dane Furfaro throws during the cornhole tournament as part of Winterfest on Lake Bemidji on Saturday. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer)8 / 20
Friends Brian Stull and Brian Prosser gather up their courage to take the plunge Saturday as part of Winterfest on Lake Bemidji. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer)9 / 20
Jumpers from Sacred Heart plunged as a group Saturday during the Brrrmidji Plunge. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer)10 / 20
Four members of the Bemidji State Hockey Cheer Team -- Nevada Smith, Miranda Morris, Meghan Herron and Shaina Seopa -- take the team approach to the jump in Lake Bemidji as part of the Brrrmidji Plunge during Winterfest on Lake Bemidj. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer)11 / 20
Susan and Tara Tesch were just one of the many families who took the Brrrmidji Plunge together as part of Wintefest on Lake Bemidji events Saturday. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer)12 / 20
One of the more colorful groups of jumpers were Lucas Molitor, Tonya Thompson, Kali Rongstad, Kelsie Rongstad and Marlene Gerbracht during the Brrrmidji Plunge on Saturday during Winterfest on Lake Bemidji. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer)13 / 20
Dave Brooks and Carin Smith announced the beginning of the Brrrmidji Plunge on Saturday afternoon on Lake Bemidji. (Crystal Dey/Bemidji Pioneer)14 / 20
The BSU Hockey Cheer Team plunged in neon green T-shirts and short shorts on a chilly January afternoon on Lake Bemidji. (Crystal Dey/Bemidji Pioneer)15 / 20
Team Where's Waldo's gear was rescued from the borderline freezing waters of Lake Bemidji on Saturday afternoon during the Brrrmidji Plunge. (Crystal Dey/Bemidji Pioneer)16 / 20
Whitney Weidenborner of Bemidji and an impromptu jumping pal, Emily, were all smiles before splashing into the brisk waters of Lake Bemidji during the Brrrmidji Plunge on Saturday. (Crystal Dey/Bemidji Pioneer)17 / 20
Jamie Haskell (left) approaches a row of stones with a modern curling broom. Josh Bahr (right) wields a traditional corn broom. (Crystal Dey/Bemidji Pioneer)18 / 20
Josh Bahr curls with a traditional corn broom on Saturday during Winterfest on Lake Bemidji. (Crystal Dey/Bemidji Pioneer)19 / 20
Josh Bahr, curler and ice-maker, brandished an old school corn broom on Saturday while competing in the Winterfest curling competition on Lake Bemidji. (Crystal Dey/Bemidji Pioneer)20 / 20

BEMIDJI -- Smooth Scottish stones sailed across the iced surface of Lake Bemidji for the first time in more than 80 years this weekend.

Curling has returned to Bemidji’s winter festival.

Bemidji is, after all, Curling Capitol USA; it only makes sense that an outdoor curling Bonspiel would highlight Winterfest on Lake Bemidji.

“We needed a winter event like Dragon Boats,” said Terry Matson of the Bemidji Curling Club.

Other events as part of Winterfest were a pond hockey tournament, a Brrrmidji Plunge into Lake Bemidji and a cornhole tournament.

As of Thursday, Matson didn’t know how the ice was going to turn out for the Bonspiel that began on Friday night. To accommodate the competition, six sheets were needed.

“It’s beyond my dreams,” Matson said Saturday. “The ice turned out really good.” He said setting up the outdoor arena will take half as long next year.

Matson credited Josh Bahr with mastering the smooth ice. Bahr was playing against Jamie Haskell on Saturday afternoon. Haskell competed at the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy. Former Olympian Joe Polo was also roaming the ice on Lake Bemidji during Winterfest.

“They’re having a blast out there,” Matson said.

Three draws were played Friday with another 10 on Saturday. The championship team takes home a custom Paul Bunyan curling trophy.

Matson said there were 26 teams competing this year. Next year, he anticipates 48.

“And they better register early,” Matson added. “This year, the weather hindered sign-ups early on. I’d have had more teams if I had a normal winter.”

Entry fees collected by teams participating in the Winterfest Bonspiel are contributed to the Bemidji Curling Club’s junior curlers for equipment and travel expenses. Matson said Bemidji’s junior curling team is the largest in Minnesota.

“Interest in the curling club picks up during Olympic years,” Matson said. So does participation in his community education curling course offered in October.

“If you understand the game, it’s a hoot to watch,” Matson said.

The last time curling was performed on Lake Bemidji is believed to have been in 1932 when the Hibbing Curling Club introduced it as a demonstration sport during Bemidji’s winter carnival.

Plunging below the surface

An outdoor hockey tournament and curling area are the newest addition to Bemidji’s little city of ice houses on Lake Bemidji. While not exactly of Olympic proportions, the compound also has a manmade natural pool -- if only for Saturday’s Brrrmidji Plunge.

Brrrmidji Plungers were represented by 14 state flags and nine country flags protruding from snowbanks around a hole carved in Lake Bemidji’s surface. It took less than an hour for 119 registered jumpers to boldly splash into Lake Bemidji’s freezing waters on Saturday afternoon.

“It was a good day today. The weather really cooperated,” said Caren Smith, Bemidji Jaycee member and Brrrmidji Plunge chair. When the hole was cut into Lake Bemidji early Saturday, the temperature was well below zero. By the time the last plunger dipped into the pool, temperatures were in the single digits.

Smith said the money raised from the plunge would be split between the Bemidji Community Food Shelf and the Soup Kitchen. Fittingly, a food shelf volunteer’s daughter was jumping into the five-foot deep hole to raise money for the local charities.

“It’s something Whitney wanted to take off her bucket list,” Bonnie Weidenborner said of her daughter. Taking the plunge has been something Whitney Weidenborner, 15, of Bemidji has wanted to do since she was a toddler.

Smith said the funds raised will be matched with a grant in March and donated to the charities for a total of $12,000. In years past, the Brrrmidji Plunge was part of the Polar Plunge that contributes to the Special Olympics.

“Three years ago, we separated from the Polar Plunge,” Smith said. “Now we support local charities.”

Bemidji has been hosting a plunge event for 11 years. Smith said she began promoting the event in November. The Brrrmidji Plunge was supported by 23 sponsors monetarily and by volunteers from the Bemidji Jaycees, Bemidji Fire Rescue, the Dive Depot, Dive Team, Delta Theta Kappa and Theta Tau Epsilon.

Winterfest also included a radar run along with food and beverage vendors. The radar run continues Sunday.

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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