Curling is contagious

Curling is contagious

Every four years since curling took the world stage for the first time with the XVIII Olympic Winter Games of 1998, the sport has been trending upward in popularity, says Al Ayotte, president of the Blackstone Valley Curling Club.

Interest is particularly strong after each Winter Olympics, then falls back to earth a bit, he said. The past couple of Olympics prior to this year’s, U.S. teams didn’t do all that well, limiting the post-Olympics bump, according to Ayotte.

Then the Americans shocked the world, winning the gold at the 2018 Pyeongchang games, and the curling world went bananas.

“It’s absolutely out of control,” said Ayotte. “We can’t keep up with the demand.”

Last week, the BVCC was able to nab some extra ice time to add an “Olympic Gold Learn to Curl” event at its home base in the Blackstone Valley IcePlex in Hopedale, Mass. That event is scheduled for Saturday, March 17. The session sold out almost as fast as it was posted, said Ayotte. A March 3 session had already sold out.

The sellouts aren’t unique to the BVCC. The Ocean State Curling Club has a waiting list for a two-hour learn to curl session on Sunday, March 18, at the Cranston Veterans Memorial Ice Rink, and other area curling clubs are reporting similar levels of interest in starter sessions.

As of last Thursday, Ayotte said, Marlboro, Mass., was the closest spot with an opening on the ice for a community curling event.

Jamie Quinn, a member of the South Shore Curling Club and deputy publisher of The Valley Breeze, said after the 2014 Winter Olympics, the club held seven completely sold out learn to curl events. The program takes 40 people at a time. This year saw the club’s quickest sellouts ever. One event announced during the Olympics sold out in 15 minutes and a second announced on Monday of last week sold out in five minutes, he said.

“That is crazy for us and spectacular for our game,” said Quinn.

“I will say that my favorite part of the Olympics was watching and reading tweets by Mr. T,” he added. “He became possibly U.S.A. Curling’s single biggest fan. With praise and support for all of the U.S. teams – and the perfect hashtag, #curlingiscoolfool.”

For those still unfamiliar with one of the world’s oldest team sports, says Ayotte, conceptually it has similarities to another Rhode Island favorite: bocce. As with bocce, the goal is to get the granite stone closest to the center of the circle and inside the opponent’s stone.

“It’s a very accessible sport,” said Ayotte.

Those who aren’t able to get into the crouching position to slide the stone have the option to stand up and play stick curling.

Curling is also surprisingly good exercise, said Ayotte. Even as the “skip,” or captain of the team, who doesn’t do the sweeping, he walks between two and three miles in the course of an evening. Those doing the sweeping will work up a sweat even in a cold arena, he said.

“You get out what you put into it,” he said.

Also a misconception is that all the yelling is pointless or overdone, said Ayotte. The yelling has a purpose. The louder and more urgent the command – “hurry hard!” – the more imperative it is for the sweepers to put their all into the work of guiding the stone down the ice. Sweeping can actually make the stone curl.

The BVCC is particularly busy in the winter when it gets dark early and people are looking for something active to get out and do, said Ayotte.

The South Shore Curling Club, of Bridgewater, Mass., was the first arena curling club (playing on hockey rinks) in Massachusetts, said Quinn. Today there are arena clubs all over the Bay State and Ocean State, and there are also several dedicated clubs with no hockey in Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire.

Quinn said many people want to try curling because it looks effortless when seen on TV, and they think it can’t be that hard.

“Then they come out and try and are typically surprised by how much there is to it,” he said. “Sweeping may look easy on TV, but it is quite a workout.”

It’s a great sport due to its accessibility to all kinds of people, said Quinn.

“I’ve played against Steve Emt and Meghan Lino, both of whom will be competing next week in Pyeongchang in the Winter Paralympic Games,” he said. “I’ve played against people born during the Depression as well as kids in college. And there are ways for people to play who have knee issues or back issues.”

Quinn said he’ll never forget the words of wisdom he received from Russ Lemke, the “local Johnny Appleseed of curling,” about curling’s place among team sports.

“He was talking after a learn to curl and said that curling is one of the only true team sports,” he said. “All four team members are involved on every shot. The skip calls the shot and directs the sweeping, the person delivering the stone makes the shot and the other two members are sweepers if needed. All shots involve the whole team. It makes for great camaraderie.”

To learn more about the sport, visit bvcurlingclub.com , oceanstatecurling.org or southshorecurling.com .


Curling Terms

Burned stone – This happens if a player holds onto a stone past the closest hog line, which is against the rules. Also, if a player is sweeping a stone down the ice and hits it with the broom, the stone must be taken out of play, and it's considered a burned stone.

Button – Center of the house.

Broomstacking – When players enjoy a beverage and socialize after a game. Typically, the winner buys the first round. Historically, when the game was played outside, where it was cold, players would stop midgame, stack their brooms on the ice, and go warm up with a beverage.

Draw – Type of shot used to typically get to the center of the house, which is also called the “button."

Hack – Similar to a starting block in track and field, where the player places his feet to help propel the stone down the ice.

Hog line – A stone that's being throwing down the ice must cross the hog line to be in play.

House – The circle that players try to get the stone inside to score points.

Rink – The name of a curling team.

Sheet – The playing surface, or the ice.

Stone – The 42-pound smooth-sided rocks used to play. Sixteen stones are needed to play a game.

Takeout – Type of shot called to remove the other team's stone.

Tee line – Center line of the house, perpendicular to the sheet of play.

Warm room – The room where spectators watch, and where players go to broomstack.

Members of the Blackstone Valley Curling Club.
Valley Breeze Deputy Publisher Jamie Quinn, center, is a member of the South Shore Curling Club, based in Bridgewater, Mass., which was the first arena curling club in Massachusetts.