Kansas City Curling!
Canadian schoolteacher bringing curling to students in Midwestern United States
By: Dave Komosky
There’s an old saying that from tiny seeds, mighty trees grow.
So, who knows, maybe someday the bi-state metropolitan area of Kansas City, which straddles the Missouri-Kansas state line in the mid-western United States, will produce mighty champion curlers.
No surprising, an ex-pat Canadian named Joanne McLay has planted a curling seed at the Sunset Ridge Elementary School in Overland Park, Kansas, where she works “her dream job” as a physical education teacher.
What McLay has done is introduce floor curling at her school, not unlike the Egg Farmers Rock & Rings Program, which has reached over 2 million students across this country.
Floor curling is a sport that uses target mats and stones on ball bearings to provide an indoor, iceless curling experience. The games are played in the school gym, where rules, strategy and other instruction are provided.
“The kids love it,” said McLay, who was born and raised in Calgary but moved to Shawnee, Kansas, because of her husband’s job. “They jump up and down and scream ‘yeah!’ whenever they get close to the button. Part of my curriculum is to keep my kids active and engaged in lifelong learning and curling checks those boxes.”
Who would ever have thought that a woman from Calgary, who never curled, would be introducing the sport to kids in Kansas.
But it’s true. McLay never curled much but grew up in a family where her dad Robert was — and still is — heavy into the sport, both as a curler and instructor. He was inducted into the Southern Alberta Curling Hall of Fame as a Builder in 2010 and still curls and teaches today at age 87.
“I remember as a child being dragged out there (curling clubs) and bringing my Barbie dolls and my colouring books, and my sister and I went, but we never did curl,” says McLay. “I was into gymnastics, swimming and badminton. And that was enough. I don’t know if I ever threw a curling rock.”
No matter, the game had rubbed off on her so that when she was looking for something new to add to her curriculum at school, where she teaches Kindergarten to Grade 5, she thought of curling.
“The first thing I thought was how could I bring Winter Olympics, winter sports, into the school,” she said.
McLay learned a program in the Kansas area already used a version of floor curling.
It set her into action. McLay used grant money available to her school for new gym equipment, applied for it, and got the program rolling.
Rock Solid Productions in Toronto provided the equipment.
McLay admits a lot of her colleagues were skeptical at first.
“Some of them didn’t know what it was, but they didn’t know what a toque was, either,” she laughed. “It was a matter of education.”
But they all came around when they saw the program in action and the joy on the kids’ faces when they started tossing rocks.
Some neighbouring schools have since asked to use the equipment for field days.
“It’s been very well utilized,” says McLay.
McLay loves introducing the game and calls it a great equalizer.
“You can get a great athletic kid and a kid who is not quite as coordinated, and they can both be on the same team,” she says.
It’s not like Kansas City has no curling whatsoever. It does. The Kansas City Curling Club provides curling to local communities on both sides of the state border and does have a youth program.
McLay believes introducing the sport to hundreds and eventually thousands of kids at the school level can only help the game grow in ways a single club cannot.
She is already getting some positive feedback.
“Honestly, I’ve had a couple of kids come back to me and say they have found curling,” she says. “They enjoy it and talked to their mom and dad about it and took up curling with their family. That makes me exceptionally happy.”
She encourages all her kids to spread the word at home.
“I tell the kids you need to tell your parents what the button is, what the hogline is, so they can understand the game too.”
Lately, she’s incorporated stick curling into the mix, where kids throw the rocks with a long-handled device, meaning kids of all abilities learn what it is like to play the game.
Where this goes from here, only time will tell.
But McLay can dream.
“I kid with my kindergarteners,” she says, “that ‘you can be representing Kansas in a future Olympics.’ ”
And who knows, maybe they will.