Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Sam Harrel) **MAGS OUT NO SALES**, Associated Press
Lalaunie Whisenhant's Woodriver Elementary fourth and fifth grade class cheer on the Ely Rink of New York during the USA Curling 2011 Junior National Championships on Jan. 31, 2011, at the Fairbanks Curling Club, Fairbanks, Alaska.

FAIRBANKS, Alaska — All of them came as observers, and many of them left as converts.

The 24 students from Mackenzie Staiger's class at Woodriver Elementary School took a field trip Monday to the Fairbanks Curling Club to watch the USA Curling Junior National Championships. Several of the fifth- and sixth-graders want to return to the club in the future to throw, or slide, the

Thirty-eight to 44-pound granite stones down an ice sheet and have rink mates sweep the stones to make them go faster into the house, or target area.

"They are really into it," Staiger said as she watched her students admiring the skills of the competitors in the noon women's matches between Washington and Minnesota I and between Alaska and Minnesota II.

Staiger's classroom adopted Minnesota II, and Elizabeth Busche, the team's 18-year-old third from Duluth, Minn., welcomed the support.

"It was really cool. It was great to see all the kids out there and their excitement and involvement," Busche said. "It definitely keeps your spirits up because if you're having a bad game and someone's cheering for you, you can hear them."

Staiger is a curler and a neighbor to two Alaska curlers, sisters Vicky and Tina Persinger, whose parents, Ken and Cathy, introduced the teacher to the sport. Ken Persinger coaches Alaska in the tournament.

"You don't even know that this sport exists unless someone introduces you to it," said Staiger. "It's thriving in town and this is a huge club."

Introducing youngsters to the sport born in Scotland in the 16th century was the intention of Dick Morris, the youth liaison for the national tournament and a curler.

Morris visited classes at different elementary schools in the area to learn if teachers were interested in having their classes adopt one of the 20 teams (10 men's and 10 women's) in the nationals.

Twenty classrooms from seven area elementary schools are involved — Woodriver, Joy, Ladd, Watershed, Nordale, Weller and Ticasuk Brown.

"The kids are excited," Morris said. "If they've seen it on television, they're interested about it. Of course, it's a pretty active sport and they all want to know when they get to get on the ice."

"It's kind of like what we're trying to get," said Morris, "build the interest and have people come watch it, and recognize the sport's here, all the fun parts of the sport, competitiveness and so forth."

Before the field trip, Staiger showed her students YouTube videos and discussed curling's rules. On Monday, her class was introduced to sportsmanship, as the

students watched the Washington and Minnesota I curlers exchange post-match handshakes.

"It's teaching kids that there can be a lot of competition with a lot of respect happening at the same time," Staiger said.

Twelve-year-old Ty Proffitt plays a sport on ice that involves sticks and pucks, but he was fascinated by curling.

"I like how it reminds me of hockey because of the ice," said Proffitt, one of Staiger's sixth-graders. "It looks like anybody can play and I would like to give it a try."

Woodriver fifth-grader Sarah Maynard, sixth-grade classmate McKenzie Kreider and Staiger's

6-year-old daughter Zoe, a first grader, helped develop a poster for Minnesota II. It read "Go Christensen," for the team's skip, Cory Christensen.

"I like it because it's really active and I like how the teams are communicating," Kreider said.

Maynard was ready to throw a stone and handle a broom after watching the competition.

"I think it's really interesting," she said. "I think it's so interesting that I want to start curling. It's really interactive with everybody and I think it uses a lot of energy."

Information from: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com