WAUCONDA — While curling garners worldwide attention as part of the Winter Olympics, a similar sport draws fans from across Lake County and beyond.
This one involves one-gallon plastic jugs of ice tossed onto a frozen lake.
“Burling…yeah, that’s a thing!”
The tag phrase used for the sport of “ice jug curling” – a combination of bocce and curling – becomes more familiar every year, especially in Wauconda, where burling originated seven years ago.
“Dog day boredom in winter,” said John Bader, who thought of the idea with his son-in-law Joe Sovran of Island Lake while watching the 2014 Winter Olympics. gaze out the window at the frozen Bangs Lake in Wauconda, eager to partake in some winter activity.
With the sliding stones used in the sport of curling costing thousands of dollars, the sport is not readily available to the public.
“Burling is very accessible,” said Wauconda Park District Commissioner Bader. “We froze our own jugs and the sport began.”
What’s needed are the icy jugs, of course, but most of all an openness and a willingness to have fun and, maybe, a little chill.
The sport has an official list of rules. Basically, the burlers have to drag the frozen 40-foot pitchers towards a burling target, known as a hominy.
As in petanque, the objective is to position the pitchers as close as possible to the target. Burlers who keep their jugs straight earn more points. A team wins by scoring 21 or more points and leading by two points. Unlike curling, there are no brooms or sweeps in the sport of burling.
“It’s kind of like baseball where you have to keep your eye on the ball, kind of the same premise,” Bader said. “Everyone has their own way of executing their shot. The ice is a big part of that. The ice won’t always be perfect. It’s going to be muddy or bumpy. You have to adapt to the conditions or you’ll lose. There’s a lot of strategy in play.
What started in 2015 with four burling teams, including Bader’s Jugrnaughts, has grown every year.
The Wauconda Burling Association at goburling.com offers official merchandise and giveaways. There are 16 teams – all with their own brand logos – competing this season in weekly tournaments on Bangs Lake.
A recent tournament held during Winterfest 2022 at Lindy’s Landing in Wauconda drew 21 teams ranging from four to 10 players. A new team of burlers from Wauconda named Fun Times won first place. Last year’s first-place winner Slippery When Wet took second place.
Newbies Burling last year, Slippery When Wet had quite a run. Wauconda team member Eric Wroblewski isn’t sure why the team was successful.
“We don’t even live by a lake,” he says. “It’s just the competitiveness in us, I believe.”
Like many, he joined simply because he had heard of it. “I’m like, ‘Oh, I have to try this,'” he said.
With over 100 attendees, the Winterfest event drew large crowds of spectators.
Drinks and food, including chili stands, usually accompany burling tournaments, which begin with the national anthem.
“It’s quite an operation when we head out there,” said Bader, commissioner of the Wauconda Burling Association.
For most participants, it’s not really about competition.
“It’s just about getting out there and having fun,” said Brian Dudey of Wauconda, who has been playing the sport for about five years. His team, the Lumberjacks, finished fourth at Winterfest. His wife’s team, the Lumberjills, did not fare as well. They were eliminated in the first round.
“It’s just a great way to get out and about during the winter,” Dudey said. “I’m aware that this band doesn’t have the winter blues because we spend so much time outside in the winter.”
And there’s no age limit for burlers, with burlers ranging in age from 17 to 65.
The biggest challenge?
Don’t fall or slip on the ice, Dudey said.
“If you’ve never been on the ice before, I think people get a little nervous about it,” he said.
With travel teams from Mundelein and Palatine already part of the tournaments, Bader said he hopes to start traveling tournaments next year, possibly in Island Lake, where village chiefs have shown interest.
“It transcends politics,” he said of the sport. “Everyone’s out there freezing their asses, but they’re all smiling.”