Northern Ontario communities have been struggling the last few years as major industries that once carried small towns are now leaving. All is not bad news for Nipigon, as their active Little Rock curling program does shine a bright light.
Nipigon is a small Northern Ontario community of less than 2000 population, located 120 km east of Thunder Bay at the top Lake Superior, where Highway #11 meets Highway #17. Nipigon’s economy is not very big with forestry, fishing and tourism at the base. The all-volunteer curling club at the four sheet Nipigon Curladrome is a centre of attention during the curling season. A very busy Susan Lemieux helps direct the Little Rockers at Nipigon, plus cares for other youth curling programs in Juniors and high school teams.
Youth curling did not start in Nipigon until 1978. Back then a curler did not start curling until at least age 9 or when you were big enough to throw a full size granite rock. Susan herself is a product of that program. Nine years ago, Susan started the Little Rock program, which has available to them a set of the Kids Can Curl rocks. The little guys age 4 to 6 play with the smaller rock on a half sheet of ice. ‘Medium’ Rockers, age 6 to 8, use the full size granites on the half sheet, then graduate to shooting rocks on full length sheets when they become Youth curlers to play games on teams at around 8 to 13 years.
At the start of season, a youth clinic is conducted. Over the season, portions of the programming supplied in the Tim Hortons Little Rock Resource Guide are used, with some of Susan’s own ideas to add to the programming mix. “Curlers do not advance to the next level until they are ready”, Susan notes. “Every year we have around 20 to 30 Little to Medium Rockers and anywhere from 24 to upwards to 60 Youth Curlers.” Now in a small community of less than 2000 population, that is a very significant number of curling participants, split of over two time periods, who are all under bantam / junior age.
The Nipigon Curling Club is totally run by volunteers. Programs do not happen without the volunteers. High school students contribute a great deal of time to collect their community service hours. The students easily get enough hours in one year, but keep on coming back each winter until they go away for college or university. Susan highlights, “we are extremely fortunate to have dedication from our volunteers”.
At the end of the season wind-up, pizza and cake are served with the main attraction being a two end game against the parents. Most parents are not curlers, which make it very interesting on the ice to watch the kids win over Mom and Dad. Some families are found practicing curling slides on the kitchen floor with household brooms prior to the big games. Kids trying to explain how the scoreboard works is even more interesting.
Susan is pleased to say, ”Considering all the hardship this region has encountered over the years with job losses, mill closures and many families moving away for work, the youth curling is still busy and going strong. It is one part of the winter that I look forward too. Watching the kids learn and have fun, is there any better way to spend a chilly winter evening? I don’t think so!” A statement that could not have been said any better Susan.
Keep that light shining bright Susan, for Nipigon has a terrific spirit and a wonderful program with which to be proud.
To all the Little Rock programs out there in curling land, have a terrific summer.