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Fairbanks' International Bonspiel celebrates 75th birthday

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Posted: Sunday, April 4, 2010 4:17 am | Updated: 1:17 pm, Wed Dec 26, 2012.

FAIRBANKS - Good friends. Good times. Good curling. Great Party.

That’s the Fairbanks Curling Club’s annual International Bonspiel in a nutshell.

“It’s a big get together with friends from in and out of town,” said 86-year-old Grant McCoy, who curled in the bonspiel from 1946 to 2005 when the Fairbanks Curling Club celebrated it’s 100th anniversary.

“It’s all about renewing acquaintances, having a good time and good sportsmanship,” he said. “I can remember times when there were busloads of curlers coming from Whitehorse, and we always used to have a big group from Inuvik come over by plane.”

McCoy’s legs and back don’t allow him to curl any more, but he can still remember details of International Bonspiels at the former curling facility in the Old Paint Pot building, as well as the early years of the current curling club on Second Avenue that came into existence in 1963.

While the bonspiel was always a time of revelry, McCoy said it’s popularity really began to grow when the current facility was constructed on Second Avenue across the street from Growden Memorial Park.

“It wasn’t as wild at the time, because we really didn’t have the facility for it,” McCoy recalled. “When we got into this building, we had the room upstairs to hold 480 people and that’s when it started to get rowdy.”

McCoy didn’t mind the change.

“I used to cut it up once in a while” he said with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face.

McCoy was in the finals from 1961 to 1963 winning twice. A team from Dawson beat McCoy in the 1962 finals when the natural ice was melting because of a thaw.

“The guys from Dawson beat us that year,” McCoy said. “They were a bunch of big miners who could just heave the rocks through all that water.

“It wasn’t a test of skill, it was just a test of strength,” he continued. “My guys couldn’t get it to the other end, but those big miner’s could throw it right through all that water.”

That’s one thing curlers won’t have to worry about this year even though the temperature outside the curling club is in 40-degree range.

“It’s all good ice now,” McCoy said.

The International was held in February for many years to insure there would be good natural ice to curl on. When the club installed a refrigeration system before the 1977-78 season, the bonspiel was permanently moved to early April so that it would cap the season.

The International reached its heyday in the mid-980s when 60 men’s teams and 32 women’s teams entered the 50th event.

“We had so many teams that year we had to start on Wednesday and we had all the sheets filled all the time,” recalled long-time curler Bill Gryder, who served as the drawmaster for the event for many years.

“It was a different place back then,” Gryder said. “Those were some wild times times when we didn’t have nearly as many rules.”

Back then, bars were only required to close from 5-8 a.m. and curlers could take there favorite adult beverage onto the ice.

“Now you can’t afford to drink as much and and get home safely” he continued. “It’s probably better overall, but we have a lot of good memories from back then.”

Gryder first curled in the International in 1971 when he was a 16-year-old from Anchorage. He’s only missed two bonspiels since.

“Some guy broke his leg, so they came into school and pulled me out of class and said you’re going to Fairbanks to curl” Gryder recalled.

He didn’t complain.

“That’s when I found out that there were girls up here who curled who weren’t my sisters,” he said.

Kenny Murray is another veteran curler. He didn’t get a team together this year, but he recalled the old days when curlers could have their favorite beverages on the ice and smoking was much more prevalent than it is today.

“I remember sitting down here many nights just socializing, having a cocktail, smoking a good cigar and curling with folks like Joe and Dolores Jackovich,” Murray said.

“Dolores would always be giving Joe a hard time about something and Joe usually didn’t say much back, but whenever it came to for her to throw the rock he would always say ‘I’ll hold the broom Dolores, you make the shot.’”

While the International maybe a little mellower now than it was 25 years ago, there’s still plenty of revelry to go around

No matter how you cut it, the International Bonspiel, 75 years in the making, is a good time had by all.

Contact News-Miner sports editor Bob Eley at 459-7581.

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