Curling Clubs Spread in United States
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris. Curling is one of those sports most of us hear about every four years when the winter Olympics come around. Except for the Games, we rarely see the sport where one person slides a large stone across the ice while the rest of their team frantically sweeps the ice with brooms guiding the stone toward it target. According to the U.S. Curling Association, more than 1,000 new curlers took to the ice after the 2002 Salt Lake City Games and as NPR's Rachel Dry found out, local curling clubs are hoping this year's winter games will again bring new recruits to the rink.
RACHEL DRY: The Winter Olympics captivate for many reasons. Physical limitations stretched, impossible expectations exceeded. Dazzling feats of athleticism. For the sport of curling, however, it's not the jaw dropping stunts that draw people in.
DOMINIQUE BANVILLE: The thing with curling for a lot of people is that they look at curlers and they think they can do it.
DRY: That's Dominique Banville. She's a Canadian transplant living in the Washington D.C. area and she is the president of the Potomac Curling Club.
BANVILLE: It's not like figure skating where you think those guys are amazing. Curlers, they look at that and say I can try that.
DRY: She says after the Salt Lake City Olympics, a lot of people saw the sport on TV and wanted to throw a stone themselves. Membership increased more than 50 percent. Neil Christianson is another club member. After Salt Lake, he remembers the rink was a mad house.
NEIL CHRISTIANSON: Picture this, 700 people came through in one day. 700. I stood and instructed on the ice for eight hours.
DRY: It's the more modest crowd of about 30 at the club in Laurel, Maryland on a recent Saturday morning. They're there for the breakfast league. Christianson is in the kitchen, cooking the pre-game bacon and eggs.
CHRISTIANSON: You still have a powerful win. In the kitchen.
DRY: He likes the relaxed competition of the breakfast league. He also likes meeting the new curlers who come for a lesson before the game. It's a more welcoming environment than the way he was first introduced to the sport in his native North Dakota.
CHRISTIANSON: I got caught for drinking. The city judge was a guy named Johnny, John Hallow (ph) bless his soul. There were three of us and he said okay boys you owe us four hours community service. Report to the curling club Saturday morning. So we reported to the curling club and we went out and polished stones for four hours so that's how I got introduced to the game.
DRY: This morning, the novices are not there due to a court mandate. Rather they are there because their Girl Scout leader has mandated it. She wanted the girls of Troop 1319 from (unintelligible) Maryland to try the sport themselves.
BRIAN GELBOCK: Grab a broom please.
DRY: League organizer Brian Gelbock is teaching the girls curling fundamentals. He gets everyone onto the ice slowly and steadily.
GELBOCK: Everybody, step on the ice with your grippy foot. Use your broom as a balance point. How's that feeling? Is everyone feeling okay?
DRY: Gelbock's lesson is thorough and he is more patient in an icy room at 8:15 in the morning than most would be.
GELBOCK: Yes, other right hand. There you go! All right! You're going to start ten o'clock.
DRY: After a little practice the girls are steady on their feet and steady with the stones.
GELBOCK: Push towards the broom, release at twelve o'clock. Good. Good.
DRY: But everyone is shaky on the rules. As curling enthusiasts repeatedly point out, curling is not shuffleboard on ice or bocce without the lawn. Those are totally inapt analogies for this highly strategic precision sport. Except that with apologies to Gelbock and Banville and all the other Potomac Curling Club members who shudder at the shuffleboard comparison, the point of the game is in fact to launch a round object toward a target at the end of a lane. After about an hour, the Girl Scout session ends on the ice ends unceremoniously. No one has time to play a full Olympic length ten ends, or rounds, of throwing the stones. Before leaving the girls pose for a picture. They had a good time and that's Gelbock wants.
GELBOCK: I'm so in love with the sport that it's hard for me to imagine people not falling in love with it, too, if they try it. So really the hurdle is just getting people to come here and try it, but really once they do you could get hooked very quickly.
DRY: Gelbock hopes people are watching curling on TV this week. Preliminary competition is underway all ready and the metal rounds are the 23rd and the 24th. He is ready, he says, for the post Olympic rush of curling converts.
Rachel Dry, NPR News.