Around the House: Stick handling at the curling club

Not all curling championships take place on arena ice, with TV coverage and thousands of spectators ringing cowbells, buying 50-50 tickets and cheering every shot. Some of them take place at your local club. Take the Ontario Provincial Stick Bonspiel, sponsored by The Dominion (they’re everywhere!), for example. Now in its fifth year, this provincial championship event was held recently at the Guelph Curling Club. So, drawn by the announcement on the club sign, I toddled off to check out some of the action. The first person I saw when I walked in was a familiar face from my Wednesday night ladies league. As part of the organizing committee (her husband was one of the co-chairs and skip of our club’s entry) she was on duty, making sure the event ran smoothly. I spotted other familiar faces among the crowd as well. Like any event at any curling club, the volunteers are out in force, and they’re drawn from all levels, all leagues. Events like this one don’t happen by magic. The spectators were out in force, too. Fans could be found either standing in small groups around the club room, or sitting behind the glass, watching the action intently. (And let’s not forget the Smoking Section: a group of men standing outside on the club steps who were enthusiastically dissecting the last game as I walked past on my way in). I grabbed a hot drink and headed over to the glass where I found a seat with some old friends – stick curlers themselves – and they filled me in on who was playing. A few interesting points were made during our conversation: First, when watching stick curling, it’s a good idea not to sit directly behind the hack. Why? Because the curler delivering the rock stands in the hack, walks down the ice towards the hogline, then stands at the hog as the rock slides away down the ice. All good – except there is absolutely no way for a spectator to see anything other than a rear view of the curler who just threw! My companions, perched more strategically on the edges of the sheet, laughed as I contorted this way and that in my efforts to see how the shot would end up. Second, stick curling (according to my companions) has changed the game for older curlers who feel the inevitable creak of too many birthdays, and also for younger curlers with sore knees and aching backs.  The stick delivery system makes it possible for curlers to stay in the game, at their clubs and in competition, longer. The stick also plays a critical role in wheelchair curling, of course. As my companions enthused, so many curlers with joint or pain issues might have to give the game up; using the stick means they’re still able to play the sport they love. An inclusive, life-long sport? You bet. Third – and this was my favourite comment of the day – my companions suggested that some curlers who have trouble hitting the broom the old-fashioned way might find themselves more accurate if they use the stick. They were a little shaky on the details, but the results (they insist) are indisputable. Hmm. Might be worth a try… This was the fifth year of competition for the stick curling championship in Ontario, and I’m happy to report that the team from the host Guelph Curling Club – skip Bruce Jeffrey, vice Bruce Folkard, second Craig Martin and lead Fred Osburn – won it all. Events like this happen all season long, sponsored by local businesses, organized and run by volunteers, and attended by enthusiastic curlers and their fans. It doesn’t have to be a big championship on the world stage; you can find the same kind of entertainment at local curling clubs right across the country.