Curlers give back

The recent win by Jeff Stoughton’s team at the Ford World Curling Championships in Regina hit all the right notes: a highly skilled team, with a long drought since their last world title, trying to erase the well-publicized disappointments along the Brier and Olympics trail. The victory was sweet – for Team Canada, and for Canadian curling fans.

Jeff Stoughton "Spin-o-rama" (Photo: CCA/Michael Burns Photography)

After all, this was a very easy team to cheer for. Not only are they amazing curlers, but they were also loose and relaxed on and off the ice. Witness the cardboard stand-ins sitting behind the sheet during the last round-robin draw, while the real coaches and fifth player sat up in the stands eating popcorn and rubbing elbows with the fans. Or how about Jeff’s signature spin-o-rama delivery on a throw-through in the seventh end of the final against Scotland? According to a report in the Regina Leader-Post, Stoughton was hesitant to comply with the crowd’s obvious expectations during the game, but the Scots were laughing, and everyone seemed fine with it, so he gave in to crowd pressure.

“We’re just a bunch of curlers.” That’s what Stoughton said after the game. “You’ve got to enjoy the event, have fun, and enjoy every moment you can.”

So true. But his team went beyond fun on the ice. On Saturday, Jeff Gould and Jonathon Mead stopped in at Regina’s Callie Curling Club to lend some support to the 18th Annual Regina Curling Classic, in aid of Parkinson’s research. Not only did they mingle with curlers and fans, they made a donation too.

Curlers do that. Across the country, throughout the season, curling clubs hold bonspiels and social events to have fun and celebrate their own accomplishments, but just as often to raise awareness, support and cold hard cash for any number of causes.

Every club has its special cause, and most of them probably follow the pattern of the Taylor Memorial Bonspiel in Fergus, Ontario. The Taylor event is the club’s closing ‘spiel every year, and it’s organized by Chris Taylor in memory of her husband, who suffered from emphysema and died in August 1983.

“Bill was a longtime member of the FCC,” Chris told me when I asked about the event.  “He was always involved, and he was on the executive.  His trade was carpentry so he was always helping with projects around the club.  He took on running the closing bonspiel in the 70′s with the objective of making it a day for the club to show appreciation for all the curlers’ efforts through the year.  He kept the entry fee down, kept expenses to a minimum and gave the profit back to the curlers so every team received some money.”

After Bill passed away, the club donated a trophy in his memory for the year-end bonspiel and asked Chris if she would be willing to take on running it. She’s been doing it every year since.

Like any good bonspiel, the Taylor Memorial has its crazy side.

“Decorated Brooms, Best Hats, T-shirts, Pajamas,” says Chris. “More recently we have had Hillbilly, Wild West, Hawaiian, Fiesta Time and Glo-in-the-Dark Curling to name a few.  Members seem to look forward to what crazy idea might emerge for next year.  Me, I find it a huge challenge to think of something new!”

But the event also has its purpose.

“I started donating the profits to the Lung Association in Bill’s memory when people started giving back the prize money to me to support the bonspiel for the next year,” she explains. “I felt it was successful because of its simplicity and did not feel that putting more funds into it would make it better. Those who attended agreed, so the relationship with the Lung Association was established.”

The lesson to be learned is this: curlers give back. It might be two world champions like Gould and Mead taking in the action at a local bonspiel and donating to the cause, or elite curlers swarming the stands during Sandra Schmirler Day at the Scotties to collect donations, or a small-town club celebrating the end of the season and remembering one of their own, as Chris Taylor and her club does in Fergus. You can count on curlers to give back.

And we have a lot of fun doing it, too.