DOWNERS GROVE – Not many years ago, curling seemed like an obscurity to Downers Grove native Matt Galas.
The Windy City Curling club co-founder remembers when he first became acquainted with the sport where frenetic broom sweepers manipulate ice to help direct a sliding stone towards the target.
One night in college, he returned home from a local Kansas bar, and the sport was relegated to the 2 or 3 a.m. slot during the 2002 Winter Olympics.
"Me and my roommates were watching it, and we started looking up clubs in the area," he said. "And there wasn't anything, and we kind of forgot about it."
Four years later, now back in the Chicago area, he found himself staying up late again to catch the sport during the 2006 Torino games.
"I thought 'hey I have to try this now,'" he said.
The closest curling club he could find was about 80 minutes away in Mendota, and he and his brother Jeff, along with about 20 friends made the trip to play.
"From the moment we walked in the door there, it was something easy to fall in love with," he said. "The community around curling is unbelievable.
"No other sport do you hang out with your competitors before and after the games. In curling, once you're done playing, you're best friends. The winners buy the losers a drink and you commiserate."
There is that social aspect, colloquially known as "broomsticking" among curlers. But the sport itself also drew him, he said. Curling is often called "chess on ice" for the team strategy in sliding the stones to obstruct or knock the other team.
"You're always thinking three or four shots ahead, if not more, trying to outsmart your opponent," he said.
The game is also accessible to varying ages and physical ability. Each team consists of four players. One teammate slides a stone while two sweep, and the fourth member stands in "the house," or target, and calls the shots. Everyone takes turns fulfilling each of the roles in a game. The goal is to be closer to the center of the target than the other team.
"It looks easy; it's kind of like golf," he said. "Anybody can make the shots, anybody can play. But to do it consistently, and to do it at a high level, that's where the skill comes in."
Galas and the core group of other Downers Grove natives – his brother Jeff Galas and friends David Jamros and Jeff Sampson – continued to play regularly in Mendota, before forming Windy City Curling club in 2012. This April, the crew finally found a rink closer to home where it could rent ice time, Rocket Ice in Bolingbrook.
"We have players from all over the Chicagoland area," said Sampson, a club co-founder and current president. "People are coming all the way from Chicago down to Tinley Park, even from Indiana on a weekly basis."
The club plays every at 9:30 p.m every Thursday. Dinner is provided before the games by a rotating list of teams.
For first-time players, Windy City Curling offers a learn-to-curl program every week.
"We get you going," Matt Galas said. "From that, several people sign up for the next league or future leagues."
The club has more than 60 members, and Galas said they hope to grow to between 150 and 200.
"It is nice to expose people to a sport that they probably have never played before," said co-founder and treasurer David Jamros. "The most refreshing thing is seeing all of the people who come to our learn-to-curls that leave with a smile on their face. Once you see that, you know you have done your job."
Eventually, Windy City Curling would like to find its own, dedicated home where it doesn't have to share ice time with other sports, Galas said. Long term goals include working with schools to teach the next generation how to play.
"I grew up playing sports," he said. "I wholeheartedly believe that is what made me who I am today. Being able to provide that to the youth is a great thing."
For more information, visit www.windycitycurling.com