Local trio shares national curling title, and is competing on world stage this week



As Russ Brown and Russ Armstrong were simultaneously approaching 50, Jeff Wright was eager for both to hit the milestone age that many dread.


The trio have spent more than a decade curling with one another at the Exmoor Curling Club in Highland Park. The age barrier didn’t prevent them from training at Exmoor, but it kept Brown and Armstrong from joining Wright’s team and curling in senior competitions.


“I was chomping at the bit, waiting for them to both get to 50 because I definitely wanted to curl with them at the senior level,” said Wright, who is 59 and lives in Libertyville. “I know their skill set and I have a comfort level with them, obviously, on and off the ice. We’ve played together for so long that we literally know everybody’s tendencies and we know how we’re going to react. It’s like a family.”


That family was reunited this year, the first that Brown, a 51-year-old Lake Forest resident, was eligible to compete in the senior division. Armstrong, who is 52 and lives in Lake Bluff, has been part of Wright’s senior team in each of the last two years.


The trio — whose five-person team also includes Winnetka’s Jim Wilson and Nils Johansson, who has lived in Highland Park — took first at the 2014 U.S. Senior National Championships on Jan. 26. With the win, they earned a spot in the 2014 World Senior Championships. The World Senior Championships are scheduled to take place from this week in Dumfries, Scotland.


Wright said winning a national championship had been a goal of his “ever since I started curling.” An added bonus of curling together for so long was that Armstrong knew how much winning a national title and representing the United States meant to his teammates, but especially to Wright, who is the team’s skip.


“It was a big thrill,” said Armstrong, who won his first national title in 1985 when he was 22. “He’s been dying to win one for a long time. It was real special to win with Jeff.”


With such a long history together and so much skill on the team, certain things come easier for Wright, Brown and Armstrong. For example, the squad has excellent communication. In curling, communication is vital because the thrower must relay the speed of the stone he or she just threw to the sweepers, who can then dictate its speed, direction and curl.


Another benefit is the cohesion of the squad, a key aspect of the team-first attitude needed on a five-person group that has to have one curler sit out during each match. Everybody also has the ability to fill in for every spot on the team — from lead, who throws the first two stones of the match, to skip.


Having Armstrong, in particular, as vice skip has been a huge asset to Wright. Armstrong helps with strategy and sets up the stones for Wright, who throws the last two because he’s the skip.


“Russ (Armstrong) is another guy who normally skips a team, but the way we’ve put our team together, he’s taken this vice skip spot,” Wright said. “He has all of the same skills and abilities to play that spot or my spot or any spot on the team, which is kind of true of all the guys on the team.”


The U.S. National champions will try to continue their hot streak against stiff competition in Scotland. Brown said the keys heading into the competition, in which Canada is the favorite, are communication and consistency.


“If we’re playing well, I think we can beat anybody,” Brown said. “That’s what the goal is, obviously — to put our best game out there and play the right strategy. … Our goal, bottom line, is to win a gold or at least be in the medal round.”

Comments are closed.