Füssen’s Junior Curling Camp celebrates its 20th anniversary

As the curling season winds down in late spring, the sport tends to go through a spell of hibernation until the early autumn. Traditionally winter sports take a break to catch the summer sun.

But not all in the sport are taking to your usual holiday destinations. In fact, a town of 15,000 people happens to be one of the most popular summer destinations for young curlers.

Füssen lies in the depths of Bavaria, nearly two hours away from the state capital, Munich, and practically kisses the Austrian border – so close that you could walk over the border in ten minutes from the town. Due to its relative seclusion and size, you’d think that a pretty town like this may go amiss, but it’s the home of curling’s most popular junior camp.

Füssen’s Junior Curling Camp is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year after its creation back in 1999. It was the brain child of Juliane “Lilli” Hummelt, who was the President of the German Curling Association at the time. Lilli collaborated with WCF Hall of Fame member Keith Wendorf, who at the time was the German national coach, to create the beginning of the Füssen Junior Curling Camp.

“Lilli said that I should do a camp for all the juniors in Germany and help organise it,” says Keith, the recently-retired Director of Competitions and Development for the World Curling Federation, “She spoke to Füssen and they had ice for it. It started with her suggestion, then my work.”

“When I came up with the idea, I spoke to Keith about the prospect of making a camp for young German athletes and from there it just got bigger and bigger,” says Lilli.

Despite its humble beginnings, the camp grew at a rapid pace, “The first year that we ran it, it was just me as an instructor and some untrained German assistants. It turned out to be successful,” Keith says.

“I said that we should take it one step further and bring in more trained, qualified instructors so in the second year I brought in three Canadians and I said I’d do a course on instructing and you can do the Junior Camp.

“That was successful, then we decided we should do an ice course and an umpire course.”

As of now, the camp is more than just a week of fun for teenagers, it allows coaches to hone their skills in teaching the sport, but also allows ice technicians to become a force at their craft, making the camp more versatile than what was originally intended. As Keith began to work for the World Curling Federation, the camp progressed onto the global stage that it continues to this day.

“When I started in 2002 with the WCF I had their financial backing, so we could go even further,” says Keith, “By this time the camp was getting so popular with so many different countries coming and the juniors having a good time that we just kept improving it year by year.”

The real question is why Füssen? Why does this modest town attract the curling community like little other places in Europe? Keith explains that there are very few places in the world that have facilities quite like here.

“Füssen has everything we want,” he says, “It has classrooms, we can put in nine sheets of ice. It has a youth hostel, there’s great co-operation with the local curling club in Füssen, so all the aspects you need for a camp are all there so there was no reason to take it anywhere else.”

It has gotten so popular to come here, that there are waiting lists. There is an absolute appetite for these camps, so why has this successful formula not been replicated?

“We’ve wanted to set up some more pilot camps with member associations but the interest for whatever reason just hasn’t come about,” says Keith, “Some don’t have ice or the facilities. It would be nice to have two or three of them around the world, but only Füssen seems to continue totally successfully every year.”

However, the camp is more than a fun trip away. Along with teaching young curlers how to improve their technique and giving them an opportunity to mix with people from nations around the world, discipline is pivotal to this camp. There are set ground rules to not only ensure the safety of the athletes, but to keep everyone socialising and well-behaved. These rules include a strictly no alcohol policy (despite some athletes being old enough to drink) and restrictions on leaving the camp, unless given permission. It can be tough, but Lilli sees it as a fair system.

“We trust the athletes to behave themselves and we show them respect if they do the same for us,” she says, “The majority of the kids respect the rules, but we have had a couple of incidences over the years.

“Once we had a couple of the older athletes who snuck out to go to a nightclub, but once we found out that they had gone out the previous night, we sent them straight home without hesitation because we have strict rules here and although we don’t like to do it, we had to stick by our rules.”

Rules for teenagers may seem counterproductive, but there really is no reason to leave the campsite when there is so much to do on campus. It’s much more than a week of grinding out your talent. It is like any other traditional summer camp. When asked about his favourite thing about the Füssen Junior Curling Camp, Keith doesn’t focus on the wonderful facilities or the picturesque town.

“I was compiling pictures from previous camps to make a presentation for this year and every single photo I looked at, all the kids had these big smiles - everyone is so happy,” says Keith.

“All the different things we do from mini golf and the fitness centre and the games we play and the talent nights, everybody’s laughing and smiling. So, the happy campers and the international flair is what I think is brilliant.”

And both Keith and Lilli have precious memories of Füssen from their many years of organising the camp. However, there is one thing that Keith believes is a missed opportunity with the camp.

“The one thing I regret is not keeping a record of the campers over the years,” he says, “Kate Caithness, the WCF President, was at the World Junior Championships and was speaking to the competitors and asked how many had been to the Füssen camp and about 70% of coaches and players had been.

“I thought it would’ve been fantastic to have had a record of our junior camp members and future coaches who had been to a major championship because I think that it would’ve been in the hundreds.”

Hundreds. Literally hundreds of success stories from the nineteen years that Füssen has operated as the home of junior summer curling. The twentieth year looks set to be special, but the athletes attending this year could become as special as the camp itself. This time there will be a record of all those future champions.

You can follow the junior camp and the World Curling Federation on Twitter, Instagram (@worldcurling) and Facebook (/WorldCurlingFederation) and by searching the hashtags: #curling #wcfcamps

Written by feature writer: Michael Houston