Helping rural kids learn about curling

The classes start the same way every time in these schools: the kids enter the gym, chatting and rambunctious, like any other group of eight-year-olds, but then they notice what is about to happen. Something different.

They become dead silent, their eyes widen and their jaws hang lower.  Once the “awe” factor has passed, without fail, the questions “What is this?” or “Is this curling?!” start coming out of the crowd and I realize that every student in the room is beyond excited to learn about the best sport on the planet.

Just knowing that this program is exposing kids to the sport of curling is one of the most rewarding parts of my job.

Justin Smidt brings Rocks & Rings to schools all across Alberta. Rocks & Rings is sometimes a child's only exposure to curling.

Justin Smidt brings Rocks & Rings to schools all across Alberta. Rocks & Rings is sometimes a child's only exposure to curling. (Photo Rocks & Rings)

As my winter working as an instructor for the Rocks & Rings program comes to an end, I’m beginning to realize not only how much this job has taught me about myself, my skills, and my abilities, but also how much this program truly influences the curious and easily excitable minds of elementary school kids.

The kids get so excited when they get a break from their otherwise repetitive school day, and that definitely helps grab their attention at the beginning of each session; it’s something new and different.

It was also new and different for me to travel beyond the city of Calgary to (surprisingly secluded) rural communities – communities so small that they make my little hometown of Sussex, N.B., seem big enough to have an NHL team. Schools in small towns have fewer opportunities for guest speakers, and special events or activities are limited, making a visit from Rocks & Rings that much more exciting.

One school has stuck in my mind all year long: the school where I taught my very first session way back in October. Teepee Creek (near Sexsmith, Alta.) is about 40 kilometers outside of Grande Prairie; a couple of roads and Teepee Creek School made up the entire community.  The school population was very small (80 kids from kindergarten to Grade 8!) with a strong sense of family and friendship amongst the teachers and students.

The school itself has only five classrooms, a gymnasium, a computer room, and a library. The teacher, Dan Bishop (I even still remember his name!) was very much the father figure of the group.  Everyone respected him and clearly looked up to him as a guide and mentor.

In the first session of the morning I made an interesting discovery.  I began teaching my lesson and explaining the basics of the game, when Dan asked the kids if they knew the famous curler from their area. Suddenly at least five or six kids in the class started yelling “Carter!” and “I know him!” and “We’re related!”

I paused for a second and then realized, “Wow! Tim Horton's Brier, World Champion and Olympic silver medallist Carter Rycroft is from around here!” How amazing to discover in Teepee Creek, a little town with two roads and a school, a connection to Carter Rycroft, someone the whole curling world knows. It was a really neat experience.

And it made the kids even more excited to learn about the sport. They had a blast trying their hand at sweeping with a real curling broom and sliding their rocks toward what they just learned is called the house and the button.  An excited Mr. Bishop was there all day, getting involved and competing with the students. I can't help but wonder how many of these children would have ever had the chance to try curling if it weren't for a Rocks & Rings visit? Maybe we inspired the next "Carter"?

This was one of those schools I wish I didn’t have to leave.  My one day there passed way too quickly.  Everyone had so much fun learning together and competing in this sport they had just learned how to play.  It was the sense of family and community in this school that made it special.  Everyone was so appreciative and the last class of the day even presented me with a school hoodie before I took off for my long eight-hour drive back to Calgary.  Oh, and I even got a hotdog at lunchtime before I left!

After more than six months working for Rocks & Rings, it turns out that my first day on the job was probably also my favourite and happened to be at a school in the middle of nowhere with a student population of about 80. A hidden gem. It was definitely an experience I won’t soon forget. I don't think the kids will either.

You can help more kids from remote schools, like the one in Teepee Creek, Alta., to discover the excitement of curling. The Canadian Curling Association has partnered with Rocks & Rings to bring curling directly to schools across the country. But the additional cost to visit remote communities is increasing and we need your help to reach more children in rural areas. With a donation to the For the Love of Curling program, you can introduce curling to kids who might not have a chance otherwise. With a gift today, you can share your love of curling with children across Canada!

Justin Smidt is a Rocks & Rings Instructor traveling to communities across Alberta to introduce curling to children at their school.