Irish Hurling originated nearly 3,000 years ago and has finally made its way to Duluth. Elements of hockey, baseball, lacrosse, and soccer derived from this sport. With 13 players to a team, 26 players fight hard with sticks on a large open field to hit a small baseball-like ball into or over a soccer sized net for points.
The windy, wet weather did not stop the Duluth Irish Hurling Club from hosting their second annual exhibition game on Saturday, Oct. 5. Hurling clubs from the Twin Cities and Wisconsin made the journey up North to help introduce the ancient and intense sport of hurling to the Duluth community.
"The purpose of this exhibition is to expose the Duluth area to hurling because a lot of people don't know what it is," says Jake Haferman, team treasurer. "It is also a way to make ties and build relationships with the other hurling teams in the Midwest."
Starting at noon, they played two back-to-back games down on the Park Point recreational fields. The hurlers would introduce the sport to random spectators on the side lines by giving them hurling sticks and balls to feel out. Later that afternoon, the teams got together and enjoyed a free meal hosted by event sponsor, Dubh Linn Irish Brew Pub.
"It's really important to try and get as much hands on as possible when it comes to hurling, which is why the exhibition games are our biggest means of promotion," says Katie Fill, team developmental officer. "Advertising by Facebook and fliers is a start but you really don't get hooked until you actually play."
Participation in the exhibition games was free without any kind of registration. The whole purpose of the event was to show the community of Duluth the game of Irish Hurling. Reflecting on last year's success, the club decided to do it again and eventually plan to make it into an official tournament.
So how did hurling make it up to Duluth anyways? Matt Kearns, a Duluth resident, heard about the sport a year ago from a friend who had joined a hurling club down in Madison, WI. Since his friend was so excited and enthusiastic about it, Kearns decided he wanted to create a club in Duluth.
In pursuing a hurling club, Kearns discovered that someone had beat him to it. A Facebook page had already been created for a club in Duluth by Tom Frawley, one of the founding fathers of the Twin City's Robert Emmetts Hurling Club (TCRE). He made the page to find out if there was any initial interest of hurling in the Duluth area shortly after he had vacationed here.
Kearns drove down to the cities to meet up with Frawley and gained more information about the sport. Frawley sent Kearns back with advice on starting the club and donated equipment to play around with, because Kearns didn't have any. After a few goes of Kearns and three friends hitting the ball around down at Park Point they decided to host an exhibition game, which ended up being their most successful means of recruitment.
"People have been very receptive to the game," says Kearns. "The club members are very enthusiastic and ambitious, working hard to make this organization successful. From my perspective, we are doing very well after our first full year of having organized practices with plenty of members showing up."
The club has grown substantially. At last years exhibition game, Duluth only had four players and the whole event was essentially put on by TCRE, who provided a majority of the equipment and players. This year, Duluth had twelve players, supplied their own equipment, and got members not only from TCRE but also from the Fox River team in Wisconsin to come up.
"The Duluth exhibition is always really fun because the team has so much heart," says Dan Paderson from the TCRE. "It's inspiring to watch the club grow in this grass roots manner and I would love to make this a more frequent habit."
Duluth looks to TCRE as an ideal model for their club. TCRE has offered a lot of support through Duluth's growth and development process all the way from answering basic questions to letting the players participate in tournaments with their team. Duluth isn't big enough to travel as their own team yet, so players travel individually to play with TCRE.
"Hurling has an awesome camaraderie about it, so we try to support Duluth as much as we can," says Chelsea Volna, member of TCRE. "Working and growing together to teach the sport to other people creates this special bond. It's not about winning, it's about having fun."
Examples of events that TCRE and Duluth play together are a Midwest tournament in Madison, the spring Northstar tournament in the cities, and Hurling Nationals in Cleveland, Ohio. TCRE also plays weekend games throughout the summer that Duluth players participate in. Duluth also merges with the Wisconsin Fox Valley teams to have a "Camp and Hurl" where hurlers camp out at Camp Wissota State Park in Chippewa Falls, WI and play hurling matches during the day.
"Every hurler seems to be so welcoming and it all goes back to the shared passion- we want you to play so we can play," says Fill. "In traveling you are constantly bonding with and learning from new people. Everybody is so willing to have you there; everybody wants you to play."
The Duluth Hurling Club is in the process of registering as a non-profit organization, so that they can host events and fundraisers to bring in money that goes strait to the club. The club holds practices every Monday and Friday from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. down on the Park Point Recreational Fields, until the snow comes to end the season. After 5 p.m. free practices, the club requires a $50 membership in order to continue using their equipment. However, if you buy and use your own, the membership is not necessary.
They started up the club, purchasing equipment and paying field dues with money strait out of their own pockets. The club eventually wants to get sponsored by different Irish pubs around Duluth because those are the places that actually know what hurling is. Currently, the pubs allow the team to host "pub nights" where a hurling match is played on TV and hurling equipment is brought in to help promote the sport.
"The local Irish pubs are really good about hosting our pub nights because they advertise both our sport and their beer," says Haferman. "They have been a real joy to work with and we look forward to working with them more in the future."
One of the unique aspects of Hurling is that it is an amateur sport, meaning that no one in the world gets paid to play. Every player is there for the pure enjoyment of the sport. It also draws upon skills from many other sports, catering to a very diverse group of players with all kinds of physiques. The Duluth team's dynamics fall between the ages of 14 to 50 that all share the same mindset of running around playing tough, only to shake hands and hit up the pub together afterwards.
"People realize hurling is not an alien sport once they play and notice elements from all other sports being applied," says Caitlin Estlow, member of TCRE. "We want to grow this sport and make people knowledgable about it because everyone can get involved by contributing their own athleticism and abilities."
The Duluth Hurling Club is only a year old, but seems to have quite the future going for it. The team is doing everything right from the advertising to getting the playing experience themselves. All it takes is a little recruitment and a ton of commitment and soon enough they can reach their goal of being as big as TCRE.
"My hope is that we see the sport and club grow in Duluth to the point where we can be an officially registered team," says Kearns. "Short term, I plan to have a sanctioned city league by next year along with enough members to fill our team with all Duluth players at regional tournaments."