Let’s talk about curling’s worldwide growth. In the western hemisphere, it’s gone a touch more slowly compared to Europe and Asia. Much of that is because outside the USA and Canada, there are few cold winters to be found. But we’re getting there: Brazil joined the curling world in 1998, and four others followed suit. All these countries have formed or are working on forming teams. Well, mostly all of them. I omitted one which predates them all: The U.S. Virgin Islands.
Since 1991 the U.S. Virgin Islands Curling Association has been part of the World Curling Federation. They were the sole Caribbean curling entity until the Dominican Republic (this year) and to this day are still a member in good standing since they still pay their annual dues. But beyond that … nothing. No teams. No participation. Not even a website or a Facebook page. It’s unprecedented. Since the USVI’s inclusion, over 40 other countries have joined the WCF. The next-longest active organization without a competitive team is Mongolia, which joined in 2012.
I set out to ask why this collection of Caribbean islands east of Puerto Rico that gave us Kelsey Grammer, Tim Duncan and Alexander Hamilton has a curling association but no curling. They have one Olympic medal to their name, in sailing. But they have participated in the Winter Games. As it turns out, that’s how they got into curling in the first place.
According to USVICA president John Foster, it started with the 1988 Winter Olympics. The islands broke into winter sports with bobsleigh, sending a couple of two-man teams (of which Foster was a part), a luger, and a skier to Calgary. This was also the year Jamaica got into bobsledding along with other snowless sovereigns such as Mexico, Portugal, and the Netherlands Antilles.
So while Jamaica got a John Candy cult classic film out of it, the USVI delegation caught the attention of an editor at the Calgary Herald, who wrote a story on them and ultimately invited the islanders to his curling club. Remember, at this time curling was a mere demonstration sport at the Games. And the Virgin Islanders enjoyed their time on the ice and considered forming a club, in Foster’s words, “for when we felt too old to bobsleigh.” And that’s why Foster, also a five-time Olympic sailor, created the association three years later.
However they never got around to fielding a team, let alone a playing surface, due to the massive undertaking it would involve. “Who knows what the future will bring,” Foster wrote in an email.
Perhaps the future will include floor curling, a commonplace first step among the various burgeoning tropical curling clubs (such as nearby Dominican Republic). Or maybe they’ll locate an expat who moved to a winter climate and found some granite. Or perhaps you, an avid curler and U.S. citizen, will move to the U.S. Virgin Islands for at least three (3) years and bring three of your closest friends to do the same.
Their flag has a yellow eagle gripping some arrows with one of its talons. You could make a rather stylish curling uniform from that. You could then get your heinie handed to you by John Shuster and/or Tab Peterson in an upcoming America’s Challenge, and the whole world will see you do it. All in the name of growth.