When Keith Dropkin, in the mid-1970s, departed the Boston suburbs to enter Union College in Schenectady, New York, the hockey-centric school had put the finishing touches on a spanking new ice rink. That done, it came to be that the athletic budget could toss some cash at another structural newbie: a curling facility. The significance of the latter would not only change Dropkin’s life, it would steer it to this day.
“That’s where I learned curling,” he said. As the post-college years flew by, Dropkin would invest in all phases of curling. He would play, coach, teach and administer the sport, on a national and international level. It has taken him to faraway ports. Austria, Spain, Russia, Canada, to name a few, as the frequent flyer miles built up.
Keith is 73 now, and still hasn’t had his fill. “I’d like to get back to coaching on the U.S. and national level,” he said. His family, wife Shelley and sons Korey and Stephen, caught the curling fever. They’ve all competed on the national level. It’s what they do.
You probably haven’t heard the old adage the family that curls together stays together, because it doesn’t exist. However, if it did … well, meet the Dropkins.
Home base is the iconic Broomstones Curling Center in Wayland, a stone’s throw from their Framingham home. “I’m coaching three local teams right now,” said Keith. His curling résumé scrolls down to the floor. He’s coached the U.S. Junior National team to two gold, two silver and four bronze medals; produced the 2017 U-18 national championship; coached at world junior championships. Sochi, Russia, 2015. It’s a long list.
Keith met Shelley on Nantucket, some 40 years ago. They dated. Keith was already deeply hooked on curling. Shelley wondered what it was.
She admittedly had no feel for sports growing up. Keith had won a men’s national championship in Alaska. “When he came back, I asked him to show me a few moves. I didn’t pick it up quickly.” Give her time.
The breakthrough came in the mid-80s. Living in Southborough for 28 years, now Framingham seven years, the Dropkins began entering tournaments. His career soared, hers fledged. Then took off.
It wasn’t an easy sport to get a grip on. “It’s a game of balance and finesse,” said Shelley. “I was committed to getting better.” She did. Way better.
She’s 68 now, still competing in women’s leagues. Her love of curling has become bottomless. How could it have been any other way, considering the odds, or rather the blessing? It was something she could share with her husband. Their two sons, Stephan, now 31 and Korey, 26, soccer players at Algonquin Regional High School, slid into competitive curling too. Both are former junior national champs. The brothers are now training in curling hotbed Minnesota.
“They were 12 or 13 when they started playing,” said Keith. “I told them to shoot for the moon. The only thing left for them is the Olympics.” Minnesota is their launching pad.
For Shelley, curling went beyond the competition. “I love the social aspect of it, getting to know people,” she said. “There’s no body contact. No swearing. The winners buy the losing team a drink, then the losing team buys the winners a drink.” And so it goes. Social and civilized.
The creator of all this is unmistakable. “Keith is the reason we’re a curling family,” said Shelley. Her day job as a human resources consultant has her on the road a lot. The step-back retreat is Broomstones, which Shelley is now president, after a stint as VP. “I’ve done every job there. I believe in the place.”
There is also this about Shelley. “I like running things. It keeps me going. I’m a leader, a people person.”
Recently Shelley and three Midwest teammates – Margie Smith (Minnesota), Shelly Kosal (Michigan) and Ann Swissheim (Illinois) – won silver medals in the Senior Women’s Championships held in Geneva. This, you see, is a sport that travels well.
“I played soccer for 25 years,” said Keith. “Curling was something new, different that nobody knew about. I couldn’t play sports five nights a week.” He dropped soccer. “Curling had the biggest upside. It became part of my life.”
Shelley is coaching a U-18 women’s team; Keith is its tech advisor. He’s also a player-coach on a men’s team.
Keith, like Shelley, enjoyed the experience of meeting people in the curling bubble. “It’s like a church, after 40 years, a key focus of our life,” said Keith, whose day job is CFO of Newton’s Hebrew College.
What he and Shelley have woven, plucking a little known sport out of the air a long time ago, and help making it essential, social, a commitment to so many, has produced a society unto itself.
First family of curling. Oh yeah.
Reach Lenny Megliola at [email protected] Follow on Twitter @lennymegs.