Our grand old sport of curling has really changed

I was quite shocked last week when I walked down the hall several times in our 99-unit condominium and there was absolutely no one

HAMMMERTIME

I was quite shocked last week when I walked down the hall several times in our 99-unit condominium and there was absolutely no one to be seen. When we got together later in the front lobby the discussion was not about the weather, oil and gas prices, the hot world news, or politics…it was mostly about curling.

For those of us who played this great sport over the years or are still slipping and sliding and tossing rocks, we all must admit that it has changed a great deal, especially at the now elite and competitive level. What is now really great, especially for spectators of all ages, is the fact that the games are so much more exciting from start to finish, with many more rocks in play, resulting in a lot of absolutely thrilling and unbelievable shots. Just like all those other professional sports that we watch, curling at all levels, men and women, has now given us our own teams and super-stars that we can cheer for at the provincial, national and world level all winter long. As well as those great hack-to-hack shootouts that go every weekend these curling stars are now taking their show to Banff and the glitzy casinos of Las Vegas for the thrilling ‘Skins’ games.

This new generation of the ‘roar of the rings’ has created household heroes such as the Howards, the Martins, the Gushues, the Joneses, the Jacobs, the Homans, the Koes and a whole lot more up and coming fast young foursomes who are trying desperately` to sweep their way onto the world curling stage. What a great treat it is to see thousands of fans sitting in the stands watching the curling on the arena ice or jumbo-tron, as well as all of us rock-and-roll couch fanatics back home, who can now actually listen in as those super curlers and announcers discuss the next shot, then we can make our choice and hope that no-body swears when the microphone is on.

Here are some of my favourite memories from hanging around our friendly Ponoka and district curling rinks way back when, and I am sure that many of you will also have lots of the same to share.

● League curling was always a great time, whether men’s, mixed or ladies’, but the best tales are told after surviving those wild weekend bonspiels. No matter what rink you visited, town or country, the coffee and the chilli pots were always on, and there were lots of rambunctious fans sitting behind the glass cheering on their favourite teams. If you had the early draw on one of those nifty two-sheeter rural rinks the morning frost might make it tough to get the first few rocks from one end to the other, but she soon ‘keened up’ and that natural ice might go perfectly straight, or swing and sway like a hula gal. Whatever the case, win or lose, everyone gathers in the lounge after the game to share a few more ‘shots’ and to celebrate a great time among friends.

● How many can remember the equipment and wardrobe we had for curling in the old days? What about the now ancient ‘corn brooms’, which were a nightmare for ice-makers as they shed straws in all directions, then mixed with all the ashes, because you were allowed to smoke and play then, so there were  ‘picks’ a-plenty. Gone are the wooden seats and ash-trays that were attached to the dividers along the side of each sheet, and do they still have those noisy spinning shoe cleaners?  You usually wore a warm woolen sweater to the rink, because it was always cold out there on the ice, and while some curlers were lucky enough to have fancy curling shoes, most used pull-on sliders.

● Back in the 50s-60s and beyond, many of us will recall playing in the annual Ponoka Town and Country Bonspiel, a great week-long curlfest that combined as many as 100 teams made up of businessmen, farmers, and many others. It didn’t really matter if you weren’t that good a curler, because we were there to socialize and have fun, with some even showing up with the kitchen broom and the game footwear was whatever was available in the closet. Now those noisy cloth brooms have been replaced by the fancy push ones and they also have matched rocks with lights, but they still have to holler at their mates to sweep or to stop, and you have to finish the game on time.

● Whatever the case with all this hype and success on the competitive curling scene across our nation, I really hope that the Canadian Curling Association is giving back some funding to our city, town, and good old country curling clubs where the fun all started so many decades ago, and where the future rock stars are born.  Seasonal support, promotion and funds are needed for our learn-to-curl youth programs, to make curling a school sport, to keep our vibrant seniors curling for many happy years, and to encourage new teams and members to take part in a keen season of curling and camaraderie  with old and new friends.  Go ahead and enjoy another hour of sunshine, don’t be afraid to think spring, and have a great week, all of you.