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The LaBonte Curse

1/28/2005:

By now, almost everybody is aware of how Boston broke Babe Ruth’s long-standing curse to win the World Series last summer. But you may not have ever heard of North Dakota’ LaBonte curse.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Here's a clarification sent by listener:

... there is an error in the Jan. 29 Dakota Datebook entry about the LaBonte Curse. My high school principal was the skip of the 1971 National Champion team and my brother has been the President of the North Dakota Curling Association several times, so I am very familiar with the story. The LaBonte Curse wasn’t on the American team but on Team Canada. The 1972 championship was the Canadian’s 12th in the 14 years there had been a World Championship. As stated in the story, LaBonte jumped, slipped and touched a Canadian rock seconds after it stopped moving. By rule, if a player moves an opponents rock the opponent is allowed to place that rock wherever they want. It was thought by many Americans that the Canadians insisted on the letter of the law rather than the spirit as the game was finished, but curling etiquette meant the game continued as Merry Helm described. The curse comes in the following year, 1973, when the Canadian team failed to win the gold medal for the first time since 1967. The legend of the curse really took hold because the 1972 gold medal was Canada’s last until 1980, a stretch of seven years. Since the curse was broken, Canada has captured the championship 24 of the next 38 years, never finishing out of the gold for more than three consecutive years, making the LaBonte Curse years even more dramatic. Jerry Kram Editor, New Town News

Back in 1972, four men from Grafton were the world champions in the sport of curling for a little less than five seconds. They were Bob LaBonte Jr., Ray Morgan and “the Aasand brothers,” Frank and John. It was the third year in a row that a ND team advanced to the world championships. In 1970, a different Grafton team won fourth in the world, and in 1971, a team from Edmore won the bronze. The gold eluded Grafton’s ‘72 team only because of an accident.

The world championships were in Germany that year, and the Grafton boys were playing Canada in the finals. When Canada’s last stone failed them, they took off their gloves to congratulate the Grafton team, and LaBonte leaped into the air to celebrate their 9 to 8 victory. Unfortunately, when he came back down, his legs slipped out from under him, he slid on the ice, and he brushed against Canada’s stone just enough to give the opponents another point. An extra end (or inning) was required to break the tie, and Canada ended up with the gold. North Dakota’s winning streak was over – hence, the LaBonte Curse.

Last January, Sports Illustrated ran a story written by Mark Bechtel about the 2003 State Championships. “On a wall overlooking the ice at the Grafton Curling Club is a sign that reads THE SPIRIT OF CURLING,” Bechtel wrote. “It states eight guidelines, the last of which is the most significant: ‘Winners traditionally treat the losers.’ In North Dakota – where it’s all about affability and quaff ability – winners also traditionally treat themselves, their neighbors and anyone holding an empty. So even though a trip to the nationals was at stake in the...State Curling Championships... after every match, without fail, the competitors would march upstairs to the bar and socialize over a few brews.”

Dr. Don Barcome (or Doc), a Grand Forks curler, explained the eighth guideline to Bechtel, saying, “The tradition of curling is camaraderie. That’s maybe the greatest thing in curling. You meet such a cross section of people. You might have the president of a bank and a mailman curling on the same damn team.”

Speaking of presidents, Doc Barcome was instrumental in getting curling into the Olympics while he was president of the World Curling Federation. Then, in 2002, he gained a spot on the 2nd U.S. Olympic team in history. Doc Barcome also has another unique distinction... he’s the only curler to be named to Sports Illustrated’s list of the “Top 50 Athletes of the Century” for ND.

Grafton dominated the state for many years, probably because curling was taught during phy-ed classes back in the 1950s. Since then, some clubs have closed due to population decreases. But, the trend is coming back since curling has become an Olympic event. In Grand Forks, the Curling Club has grown from about 100 to more than 250 during the past five years. Many of the new members are younger – and that’s an age group in which the state HAS taken world gold. Twice! But that’s a story for another day…

Going back to LaBonte’s Curse – it affected Canada, too. They had won six straight world titles when they “slipped” into first again in ‘72. “During this string, they asked me how long the curse was going to last,” LaBonte said. “I told them my spells last seven years. Sure enough.”

In North Dakota, the curse lasted a lot longer – 25 years. It lifted in 1997, when Langdon knocked off Doc Barcome’s team at the State Championship, went on to win the nationals and then took 6th in the world.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm