Future Stars take centre stage!

The Future Stars program’s impact on junior and champion curlers alike.

By: Jillian Kent

Imagine: the lights are low, but you can still hear the sounds of the crowds filling the seats surrounding you as you step onto the ice, the only spot of light in the dark arena. Above you, your own face grins down from the giant screens as they announce your name – this is real.

Now, imagine you’re 9 to 16 years old and not only is this happening, but you’re standing side-by-side with your curling heroes, the champion curlers you’ve looked up to for years. Imagine the impact that provincial, Canadian and world champions can have on a young curler. This is the experience the Future Stars program has created for youth across Canada since 2016.

As Abbie Darnley, Youth Coordinator at the Stroud Curling Club, reflected on the experience that her 20-plus kids from her Little Rock program had at the 2023 Brier in London, Ont., “I believe it is the experience of being part of the big show that will bring them back. Even if none of our [youth] ever become high-level curlers, I believe they will still be active participants in national championships, whether [as] volunteers or fans in the stands.”

Whether at the men’s or women’s Canadian championships or the BKT Tires & OK Tires World Men’s Curling Championship, held in Ottawa this past season, the enthusiasm and response from the youth involved in the 2023 Future Stars program has been the same. Every young participant was thrilled to receive time from the curlers and exhibited great enthusiasm over the merchandise they were gifted. Nearly every child involved was reluctant to take off the team jackets they were gifted even once they went home and were excited to show them off at school the following day.

Future Stars with Team Italy at the 2023 BKT Tires & OK Tire World Men’s Curling Championship in Ottawa. (Photo, Curling Canada/Jack Gustafson)

Team Brad Gushue, representing Canada at the BKT Tires & OK Tire World Men’s Curling Championship, gifted their Future Stars with signed broom head covers, which prompted discussions on “the merits of using the special curling broom heads or keeping them as souvenirs!”

Kristen Windsor, mother of Julian, a Future Star at the 2023 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Kamloops, B.C., said, “This experience absolutely strengthened their connection to curling. This experience made them want to go out and curl more, watch more on TV, and learn more about the teams that inspired them to go home and write their own curling goals down. The Brier and Olympics are the main big goals they are now chasing.”

Though it was not merely their own futures in curling, the program sparked a passion. Kristen said, “Julian is determined to make curling as inclusive as possible and get as many people as he can to try this amazing sport. He will even be helping with a bottle drive to raise money for the Kamloops Junior Curling League.”

The Future Stars felt the impact of meeting these champion curlers, even before they met. Many of them, particularly at world championships, brought gifts to give to their curlers. Pins from their local clubs were popular, but sometimes, the Future Stars went further. A young participant paired with Team Norway learned phrases in Norwegian to greet their team in their language, and another Future Star knitted small Italian flags for themselves and their curlers on the Italian team. Team New Zealand may have come away with the greatest boon, as one of their Future Stars collected a basket of all their favourite Canadian treats to welcome them and provide them with snacks for their busy week of curling.

Regardless of who you speak to, all champion curlers expressed how important the program is and how much fun they have interacting with the kids.

Shannon Birchard, second for Canada’s Team Kerri Einarson at the 2023 Scotties, stated, “Many of the kids are on the shier side, but as a formerly shy child myself, meeting my curling heroes at a young age made a huge impact on me and sparked my own dreams of being an elite curler. To think that we could have that kind of impact on them is one of the reasons why we put ourselves out there on the national/international stage.”

During the 2023 Brier, Team Northwest Territories was paired with a tall Future Star, so skip Jamie Koe went through his own bag to locate a jacket that would fit them properly.

Future Stars exchanging pins with Team Norway at the 2023 BKT Tires & OK Tire World Men’s Curling Championship in Ottawa. (Photo, Curling Canada/Jack Gustafson)

“These kids were selected,” Koe said, “and we want to ensure they have the best experience possible to really become future stars of the sport.  Seeing them smile and love receiving the gifts is really benefitting to ourselves as curlers also.”

While all branches of the Future Stars program provide important experiences for the youth selected, there is an added element at the world championships as the youth are invited to interact with the champions from around the world.

 “The international curlers all comment on the warmth, exuberance and sheer size of the Canadian crowds,” Lynda Kemp, Director of Ceremonies and Game Day at the 2023 BKT Tires & OK Tire Men’s World Curling Championship, stated, “Some explained that their national competitions would have dozens, not thousands of spectators. It was great to see the youth experience that level of attention during their feature match and the international teams also felt appreciated and celebrated through the program.” 

Matt Hamilton, Team U.S.A., went out of his way to have meaningful conversations with not just his own team’s Future Stars, but every Future Star that coincided with any of Team USA’s games – which made an impression on at least one Future Star whose parent later wrote to Lynda to thank them for the experience. This interaction with the international teams also provides valuable cultural awareness; Team Türkiye gifted t-shirts to earthquake relief, making this world issue much more relevant to the youth who’d see it on TV.

Tracy Fleury, third for Team Homan, sums it up perfectly, “Young curlers are the future of our sport. It is important to give them exposure to a competitive environment and allow them to build relationships so they can have resources and support teams to help them succeed in their future curling careers.”

The 2023-24 Future Stars program is actively recuring youth curlers, from ages 9-19, as part of the following Season of Champions events:

2024 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, open to Calgary area youth – application deadline is Nov. 15

2024 Montana’s Brier, open to Regina area youth – application deadline is Nov. 15

2024 BKT Tires World Women’s Curling Championship, open to Sydney, N.S., area youth – application deadline is Nov. 22

Curling Canada