What happens when a longtime Edina resident combines two medieval Scottish sporting traditions on one backyard pond hockey rink? The answer is ice bowling—a sporting event that entertains 20 to 30 men on any given winter Wednesday night in Edina.
Jeff Ryan refers to these weekly ice bowling get-togethers as “IBOLD”: the ice bowling organization for lonely dads. “The name could also stand for, ‘I be old,’ ” jokes Ryan. The irony of the acronym stems from how IBOLD got its start.
The Seeds of Ice Bowling
Ryan and some buddies used to play on a summer softball league. Ryan jokes about the odds of having to call an ambulance to every ballgame increasing with the average age of their team. “I suggested that maybe we should choose a sport more in tune with our athletic ability,” says Ryan.
So about 10 years ago, Ryan and the gang took to lawn bowling at Brit’s Pub in Minneapolis. Everybody had fun. (Just as important, nobody got hurt.) But Ryan thought it was a shame that he and his friends couldn’t enjoy a similar activity in the wintertime. “I started thinking,” he says, “there’s a pond behind my house. Why not start a curling club?”
For those unfamiliar with the sport, curling is a game that involves sliding 40-pound polished granite stones across a sheet of ice toward a ringed target. Curling brooms or brushes are used to sweep the ice in front of the sliding stones in order to guide their path. Believe it or not, curling has been an official Winter Olympic sport for 16 years, after many years as an Olympic demonstration sport.
Ryan set out to establish his backyard curling club in 2006. First, he created a full-sized hockey rink in his backyard. He added the required hog lines and target markings with blue spray paint. Then, via the Internet, Ryan purchased eight used curling stones and brooms from “some guy in Toronto.”
“It was a flop,” says Ryan. “We spilled too much beer while furiously trying to sweep a path for the curling stones. Plus, the sun shone on the rink during the day and blurred the painted markings.” He laughs. “It made the ice sheet look like some sort of blue-blooded alien crime scene.”
That’s when Ryan decided to mash up these two medieval sports and create something uniquely Minnesotan. Curling plus lawn bowling equals ice bowling. “We switched to British lawn bowling rules,” says Ryan. This meant no more brooms and no more blue paint. The players use a hockey puck tossed onto the ice as a jack to replace the painted targets. Whoever gets their curling stone closest to the jack gets a point. Ryan says that his invented game is not difficult, and beginners are often the best players.
“I’ve known Jeff a long time,” says Ryan’s ice bowling buddy Jamie Anderson. “Our kids played hockey together. They were always gone to church events on Wednesday nights. So no skaters were on Ryan’s rink. The guys chose that night to play.” Anderson says Ryan does things right. His ice rink is fully lit and a nearby bonfire helps keep the ice bowlers warm.
“Eric Perkins, the sports reporter from KARE 11, came out to bowl with us one time,” says Anderson. “It was really cold that night. A helicopter from the TV station hovered overhead for pictures. It was pretty funny.”
The popularity of the IBOLD grew so much that too many guys would end up standing around watching. So Ryan ordered a second set of curling stones. Now there are always two games going simultaneously. Players pick teams by tossing a glove into a pile. “You get to play with a different group every time,” says Ryan. “That ensures that everyone gets to talk to a variety of people each week.”
Only unseasonably warm weather keeps players away. They didn’t ice bowl once in 2012, but managed to play several games last winter. Ice bowling eight to 10 times per year is considered a good season. Ryan has close to 100 potential ice bowlers on an email distribution list. “If the weather is good and the ice is good,” he says, “I send out an email invitation to the whole crowd. Different guys come every time depending on their family and work schedules. We ice bowl from around 7 to 10 p.m.”
Ryan owns Versare Solutions in Minneapolis and has lived in Edina for more than 20 years. He has come to know many people. “Ice bowling is good networking,” says Ryan. “We have a bring-a-friend rule. It’s an opportunity to connect with old neighbors and new neighbors. We talk hockey, politics and church, whatever. We throw the stones around and catch up around a campfire.” What could be more Minnesotan than that?