BEMIDJI -- There aren’t many charity sporting events where participants can go head-to-head with a former national champion.

But that was the case at the 23rd Annual Lumberjack Bonspiel held Saturday at the Bemidji Curling Club.

The bonspiel, supported by First National Bank Bemidji, has helped raise money for Bemidji High School and Bemidji Middle School activities for more than two decades.

“This bonspiel is unique because it’s raising funds for high school and middle school activities,” said event organizer Jamie Haskell. “You’re giving back to them and kids.”

Haskell, formerly Jamie Johnson, was an Olympian at the 2006 Torino Games and a member of Bemidji’s 2005 women’s national championship-winning team. She went on to add a silver medal from the 2005 worlds to her collection after winning gold at the 2002 junior nationals and junior worlds.

The accomplished curler was able to put her expertise to use Saturday in tutoring newcomers to the sport at the bonspiel.

“It’s a novice spiel so you’re supposed to have two people on your team that are novices,” Haskell said. “You’re kind of teaching them how to curl and they’re learning with other teams that have new curlers on them. I think that’s a unique experience having this bonspiel here.”

There was no lack of interest for this year’s event as the bonspiel reached its maximum number of 36 teams with 144 curlers participating. The event is expected to raise around $20,000 for the Lumberjack Foundation, which benefits sports and activities at the high school and middle school.

The bonspiel and the Lumberjack Scramble golf event in August are the foundation’s two biggest events each year in terms of the money they raise. The participants and sponsors make that possible.

“It’s just incredible how everybody comes together for the good of our activities at Bemidji High School and Bemidji Middle School,” said Andra Vaughn, BMS dean of students and activities director.

“Being a curler in Bemidji, our community here in Bemidji is huge,” Haskell added. “We’re unique that there’s a lot of businesses in town and people that have donated their time and money for activities and other things. It’s amazing this community.”

The event can help encourage more people to get involved with the club and curling, Haskell said. There’s been no shortage of Bemidji curlers competing at events like nationals, junior nationals, world juniors, U18 nationals and world university games this winter.

Bemidji’s passion for curling was as much on display Saturday as it has been at any Olympics or World Championships. That may play a part in the town’s tradition of success in the sport, Haskell said.

“I think just the community, like this bonspiel,” Haskell said. “We’re giving back and everyone is not afraid to give back to their youth, or giving tips or pointers or strategy, things like that with curling.

“And then the experience: you’re competing against maybe a world champion or someone who just won state. We have a lot of competition here from Bemidji, and that helps, too.”