Rockin’ the rink: BHS students showcase the ‘spirit of curling’ in newly formed Wednesday night league

Bemidji High School curling students were looking for more ways to compete on the rink. With community help, the Wednesday night high school league was formed.

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Bemidji High School student Brandon Puschinsky releases the stone on Wednesday, March 15, 2023, at the Bemidji Curling Club.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – The lore of Bemidji’s curling community added a new chapter in January.

Since the 1990s, Bemidji High School has offered curling as a physical education course. Roughly 30 years later, a group of BHS students decided to take it a step further.

On Wednesday nights at the Bemidji Curling Club, teams of high schoolers compete against each other in a league that’s separate from the PE course. Chris Justice, BHS’ curling instructor, saw kids’ interest in becoming more competitive than the school’s sessions allow.

“This is just a group of kids looking for more opportunities,” Justice said. “I approached the (BCC) and told them I had 30-some kids who wanted to do this. What’s tricky is we can only do Wednesday nights because they’re in sports. Tuesday night, they might be in hockey. Thursday night, they might be in wrestling. Wednesday night is the only night they have off, but it also works for everybody.”

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A Bemidji High School curling team closely watches their stone on Wednesday, March 15, 2023, at the Bemidji Curling Club.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Curling classes snowballed in their early stages at BHS, reaching about 200 students each quarter in the 1990s and early 2000s. Now, BHS offers two sessions of 50 students to accommodate the time the BCC gives.


Justice didn’t anticipate the demand from students who were already curling five times each week looking for more.

“The kids were pushing me to figure out a way to make this Wednesday night league happen,” Justice said. “The (BCC) got behind it right away. It’s an opportunity for these guys to enjoy it. We hope they go off to college, come back and become members. It’s the circle of curling life.”

BHS’ curling program has opened the door for students to compete statewide and nationally. Juniors Raelynn Trask and Brooklyn Saiger play in the Wednesday night league, which helps them prepare for their national qualifiers with Team Berg – a youth curling squad based out of Bemidji.

“You learn to love it over time,” Trask said of getting into curling. “The feeling you get after you make a shot is addicting. Every day I wake up, and I automatically think curling. I’m always thinking through those good shots and the bad ones.

“It’s really fun to have the community support so many ways for us to do this. We wouldn’t be the curlers we are today if it weren’t for the community that the curling club has created. It’s endless support. I love bringing my friends here to try it and helping anybody that wants to try it.”

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Bemidji High School student Sam Gifford sweeps on Wednesday, March 15, 2023, at the Bemidji Curling Club.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Trask and Saiger are preparing for the U21 National Championships in Wayland, Mass., from April 3-8. In the meantime, the Wednesday night league and the BHS curling course serve as a chance to hone their skills.

“It’s really intimidating to try it for the first time,” Saiger said. “I started in fifth or sixth grade. It’s really hard not to put your self-worth into it. But the best thing you can do is just go out there, try it and see that it’s not as easy as it looks. And then you learn to love it.”

Justice hopes the Wednesday night league is another gateway for young curlers to represent Bemidji in out-of-town bonspiels.


“We’ve had some of the kids realize they want to do more than just a Wednesday night league with their classmates,” he said. “They’ve gone on to play in a couple of bonspiels here. We had another group go down to the Cities and play in Blaine.

“One of the things I keep telling them is they don’t know how good they’re becoming. If you’re a member, you play maybe once a week during the winter. You’re probably here 16 times in the winter. The high school kids are here every day during the week. They’re here 20 times a month just for class before they come out on Wednesday nights.”

Justice added there’s a level of importance for young athletes to find different avenues to express their ambitious nature.

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A Bemidji High School curling team sweeps on Wednesday, March 15, 2023, at the Bemidji Curling Club.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

“I think the excitement with this league is the kids can get away from their sports on a weeknight and be competitive but also have fun out there,” he said. “It’s just them out there. Nobody is leaning over their shoulders, drawing up plays. It’s a way for them to enjoy competition with their friends. I’m pretty hands-off. This is a game that teaches itself.”

Justice expects his Wednesday group to expand to 48 BHS students next winter. Before then, BHS teams will compete twice more before crowning a league champion, though winning and losing are secondary.

“The spirit of curling is social networking,” Justice said. “You cheer for a good shot. You encourage the people with you. There’s no trash-talking or chirping. You shake hands before the game. You shake hands after the game. It’s a gentleperson’s sport. The game teaches them how to be young adults through the spirit of curling.”

A full story on Team Berg’s U21 National Championship qualifier will be in a future edition of the Bemidji Pioneer and online at .

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Bemidji High School curling teams watch an incoming stone on Wednesday, March 15, 2023, at the Bemidji Curling Club.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Jared Rubado took over as sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer in February 2023 after working as a sports reporter at the Alexandria Echo Press and sports editor of the Detroit Lakes Tribune, Perham Focus and Wadena Pioneer Journal newspaper group.

He graduated from the University of Augustana in 2018 with journalism and sports management degrees.

You can reach Jared at or (218) 316-2613. Follow him on Twitter at @JaredRubadoBP.
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