BISMARCK — The North Dakota Legislature’s Senate Education Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a bill that would designate curling as the state’s official sport.
Senate Bill No. 2229 was introduced by Sen. Sean Cleary, R-Bismarck, on Jan. 12 with support from Sens. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, Scott Meyer, R-Grand Forks, and Reps. Jason Dockter, R-Bismarck, and Karen Rohr, R-Mandan. The bill was then referred to the Education Committee, which held Wednesday’s heading.
“Curling first came to North Dakota when the Drayton Curling Club was established in 1901,” Cleary testified before the committee. “North Dakota now has 11 curling clubs, the most per capita out of any state.”
The proposal was originally brought to Cleary by Alaina Schmit, a sixth-grade student at Horizon Middle School in Bismarck.
“There are many states that have a state sport, but North Dakota does not,” Schmit testified. “I think curling should be the state sport of North Dakota because it has a lot of history here in the state.
“Curling is a great sport for hanging out with people and it’s good exercise in the winter. Another thing about curling is that it is a lifetime sport. Everyone can play. Young, old, a large number of people, a few people, or a whole family can play — if they know the rules of course.”
Schmit, 11, is an avid curler who picked up the sport at 6 years old. Five years later, she’s now pleading her case to the State Legislature.
“No other state has curling as their state sport,” Schmit said. “North Dakota has the opportunity to be unique and original by passing this bill.”
After receiving a “do pass” recommendation from the Education Committee, the bill will advance to the Senate for a vote of the full chamber. If passed by the Senate, it would move to the House of Representatives.
Seventeen states have official state sports — ranging from anything as common as American football in Michigan to as obscure as dog mushing in Alaska.
The most recent states to designate an official state sport were Missouri and Washington in 2022 — with the former selecting archery as its state sport and the latter selecting pickleball. In both instances, bills went through each state’s respective legislative process before being signed into law by the state’s governors.
During Wednesday’s hearing, both Cleary and Schmit noted North Dakota’s track record within the sport of curling, adding that it has produced some of the sport’s finest athletes.
“The current 2022 U-18 women’s curling champions are from North Dakota,” Schmit said. “Last weekend, the curling club in Bismarck had nine members representing the state at the U-18 national championship. Even North Dakota State University’s curling team held the title when they were the 2019 college curling champions.”
Last year’s United States U-18 national championships were held in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where the North Dakota women’s team consisting of Miranda Scheel, Tessa Thurlow, Rilee Kraft and Ella Fleming — otherwise known as Team Scheel — topped Minnesota-based Team Ryhorchuk 9-7 to claim the national title.
NDSU won the College Curling USA national championship in 2019 after topping SUNY Polytechnic Institute 6-2.
Even the world’s finest curling ice has a North Dakota touch to it, with Fargo’s Shawn Olesen serving as the head ice technician for USA Curling and being a part of the ice-making crew for the last two Winter Olympic Games.
Cleary referred to curling as the ideal team sport that promotes good health and teaches sportsmanship. Lawmakers even offered the Education Committee a demonstration on the Capitol grounds.
“Curling is a sport for all ages and it promotes a healthy lifestyle and teamwork, trust and sportsmanship,” Cleary testified. “Sen. Meyer has offered to demonstrate it in the parking lot if you’re not familiar with how it works.”
Cleary noted that Schmit is an active member of the Capital Curling Club in Bismarck and thanked the sixth-grader’s efforts to push the issue forward.
“It takes a lot of courage for a sixth-grader to contact a legislator and come testify on a bill, so I’m really grateful for Alaina to be here,” Cleary told the committee.
Should anyone in the Legislature oppose the bill, Schmit offered up a few amendments.
“I understand many people like football and hockey in North Dakota,” Schmit testified. “So if the committee feels necessary to make changes to the bill, maybe you could consider curling as North Dakota’s official winter sport, official family sport, lifetime sport or the official non-contact sport.”
Two other members of the public, 11-year-old Etta Knapp along and Lisa Feldner, also testified in front of the committee.
“I moved to Bismarck in 2019 and started curling the same year in the Capital Curling Club,” Knapp said. “I like curling because it gives us the opportunity to improve physical fitness, practice strategy and learn good sportsmanship. My father and sister also curl and we frequently practice together. It is a sport for all ages and I have made new friends through curling since moving to North Dakota.
“By voting for this bill, you will be helping to promote and to recognize the hard work and fun that we will put into curling.”
Feldner said she’s been a curler her whole life and agrees with the remarks of Schmit and Knapp.
“It’s a really good sport,” Feldner said. “It doesn’t require strength and it’s a finesse sport. I think you all should come to the curling club one of these evenings and we’ll get you out on the ice.”
After her remarks, Schmit was asked by Education Committee Vice Chairman Sen. Todd Beard what it is about curling that she loves.
“I like curling a lot because you can interact with people and I feel like it’s really important to do that,” Schmit said. “It kind of helps your social skills, it’s fun and it’s good exercise for the winter when you can’t go outside and run around because of a lot of snow we get.”