Pebbles to Boulders: Unionville Gets It!

When I worked at the provincial level of curling in the 1980’s, Unionville was a small and active community north of Toronto. Now the community has been swallowed up the City of Markham and has a very multi-cultural complexion. The Unionville Curling Club, a premier club in the area with a vibrant membership and strong youth program was the place to be. Like most clubs, every organization has cycles of ups and downs with membership. This Unionville Little Rock story begins five years ago, current version.

Little Rockers

Five years back, Little Rockers consisted of 10 curlers and 3 volunteers. Now the program has 34 curlers and over 17 volunteers. This is certainly an amazing about-face. How did they do it? While they won’t come to say it, leadership from Brian Daffern and Stephen Orr has to take a bunch of the credit for the revival. With leadership comes passion and dedication, and certainly their families are showing these qualities to guide the Little Rockers at Unionville. “Many of the ideas that I have implemented come directly from the Tim Horton’s Little Rock Resource Guide’, says Brian Daffern. Five years ago he picked up this guide to put the resources to work and it has paid off. “Organization is a key. Being organized has created a positive atmosphere on which to recruit more curlers and introduce new volunteers’, adds Daffern.

Little Rockers

Organized they are! I was amazed to see their dedicated web page on the Unionville Curling Club web site. They even have a power point presentation entitled, Introduction to Curling for Little Rocks Parents. This presentation is very good at answering questions from ‘what is curling’ to ‘how the Unionville program operates and it’s direction’. If did not know anything about curling and my child wanted to try it, I would learn a lot from reading this guide. The typical curling day starts off with announcements, an indoor lesson (safety, basic slide, line of delivery, brushing, rink lines, etc..) and a warm up. Then the little curlers go on ice for instruction in small groups of 4 or 5. The curlers are divided by age and skill level. After a 20 minute on ice lesson, pre-arranged teams are put into action for game play. Each sheet of ice is lucky enough to have 2 or 3 coaches, one for helping skips, one for the throwing end and the other to assist brushing. The real little guys play a short game version to the near house from the hack. They tell me conversations are underway with the icemaker to prepare a halfway hack system. The best part of the day comes at the end of curling, snack time. The Unionville experience is based on the social aspects of the game, sitting together, talking about the game and building friends. “We have two dedicated individuals who promote the social part of our sport.” Stephen Orr really enjoys seeing that teams are arranged to attend Little Rock spiels in the area. Brian notes, “We have found that we have a higher retention rate with the curlers who go to bonspiels. Stephen does a great job making sure that all curlers have a chance to enter a bonspiel.” Another item Stephen takes pride is caring for the taking of photos. They say this is a terrific way to capture a child’s memories and to show their friends about curling. A yearbook is created and has become a great way to promote Little Rock curling.

Lite Rocks

A big boost to the Little Rock program is the support from the club executive. Financing is in place for the sending of volunteers to coaching courses, the purchasing of little rock brooms and the addition of another set of Lite Rocks. Unionville has three sets of Lites and one set of the older style Little Rocks from the ‘80s. A few years ago, a young girl with tremors in her left arm was told she could not curl by her physician. Her Uncle thought curling would be good therapy for her. Stephen Orr says, “For two years she curled with the aid of a support instead of a broom. In her final year, on a couple of occasions, she threw the rocks with a broom during her slide.” The young girl as since moved to be involved with horseback riding, but the years spent curling were successful in providing her confidence for physical activity. Brian and Stephen tell me that their program is successful because everyone has fun. The volunteers look forward to Little Rocks, because it is fun. Part of the fun is special events like the Halloween costume day, ‘Curl with your Child Day’, and the very popular in-house ‘Teddy Bear Bonspiel’ which includes two games, pizza, trophies and loot bags. Here is a terrific example, the Unionville Curling Club, where the club understands the value of Little Rock programming. Unionville gets it!!