Tuesday, Nov 21, 2017
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Tom Walton

COMMENTARY

If you haven’t tried curling, don’t knock the rock

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    Curlers enjoy the Black Swamp Curling Center on State Rt. 25 near Bowling Green.

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Today I salute our brothers and sisters to the north, those intrepid souls who call Canada home and actually seem happy about it.

Take the sport of curling. Some might call it “shuffleboard on ice,” because that’s basically what it is, even though that’s a bit of an insult when you consider that curling is not a big deal in Florida retirement communities.

One team member slides a 42-pound granite rock along 125 feet or so of ice and hopes it stops in the middle of four concentric circles, or the “house,” thereby scoring a point if it isn’t knocked aside by an opponent’s rock.

Kill or be killed. That’s about it.

So I was intrigued to learn that the Bowling Green Curling Club, which had called the Bowling Green State University Ice Arena home for so many years, had moved to a new and much more visible location along State Rt. 25, or Dixie Highway, between B.G. and Perrysburg.

The buzz in both communities has picked up since the grand opening of the Black Swamp Curling Center a week ago. Potential curlers in the Perrysburg-Maumee area no longer have to travel to Bowling Green to take up the sport.

The new center is housed in what used to be an Amish furniture store. There’s a joke in there somewhere, but let’s move on.

The center houses four sheets of ice, allowing four matches to be played simultaneously.

Four sheets. All indoors. They could have built an outdoor curling center, but then they’d be four sheets to the wind, and that is not a good thing to be.

A member of the club purchased the building a few years ago, a five-year business plan was drafted, and a massive internal rebuild began. The new owner now rents the place back to his own club.

The complicated transition to the new place was aided by significant help from BG’s Thayer auto dealership, the Toledo Walleye, and others. A Japanese businessman even donated overhead television cameras aimed directly downward at each “house” of concentric circles to show spectators in the lounge what’s happening on the ice.

Apparently the gentleman, who has been similarly generous to other curling clubs across the country, is no longer bitter about the war.

Like Canada, the sport is not foreign to me. I played the game for one season many years ago when the club was still at the university ice arena.

In those days we squatted in shallow foot wells, pushed off, and let the rock fly. Now recreational curlers can use a five-foot pole to push the rock down the ice if that’s easier on their hips and knees.

Slide the rock at too slow a speed and it never reaches the house way down there at the other end. You can’t score points if you can’t get home. Too fast and you run the risk of demolishing the far end of the building.

It’s like stopping a train. Please do not inquire how I know this. Let’s just say that had it not been for the courage of a fellow competitor, my rock might have ended up in Henry County.

Perhaps even more important than the thrower are the “sweepers.” Responding to shouted instructions from their leader, called the “skip,” two team members sweep the ice just ahead of the sliding rock.

The brooms increase the distance the rock will travel and can influence the bend, or curl, of the rock’s trajectory.

So curling may be the only sport in which participants compete and perform maintenance at the same time. Human Zambonis. Two good sweepers can mean extra points, a win, and bragging rights at the bar.

Oh yes, the bar. The new curling center has one. It’s called the “9th End.” Each game consists of eight ends. The watering hole is the ninth.

In fact, the bar is open to the public in the evenings. Players adjourn to the bar to brag about, or lament, their play. Boasts are made, lies are told, and fellowship ensues.

Curling is about the competition, for sure, but mostly it’s about the fun. Sunday through Thursday are league nights, but Friday and Saturday the place is party central. When tournaments are in town, competitors who have journeyed from as far away as Minnesota and North Dakota, and yes, Canada, fill the party lounge at what is called a bonspiel.

On the night I visited, two club members took pictures of each other to promote an upcoming bonspiel. Each wore a helmet bearing beer cans and a short hose. You get the idea.

Curler Scott Helle helped coordinate the big move to the new facility, and while much remains to be done (locker rooms, perhaps a food menu), other club members credit him with transforming the place into Ohio’s premier curling facility.

Why does the rock weigh 42 pounds? “Maybe they made one and weighed it,” speculates Mr. Helle with a laugh. “It was 42 pounds. So they made them all that way.”

And BG’s rocks are world class. The club bought them from a company in Scotland which only mines the things once every several years. They are Olympic quality, according to Shannon Orr, the club’s past president.

Speaking of the Olympics, the U.S. curling team has never taken the gold or even won a medal at the Olympics. That would be like a team of Sherpas whipping the New England Patriots. But the sport is growing in popularity in America, so who knows?

The club offers “Learn to Curl” nights. For 20 bucks, they show you how it’s done and then hope you’ll join a league. They want hundreds of new members, men and women alike.

Veteran curler Ron Gargasz says the new center “has energized us all.” That seems obvious. You could look it up online at bgcurlingclub.com.

Somewhere, the late Paul Olscamp, former BGSU president and a Canadian, is smiling.

Thomas Walton is the retired editor and vice president of The Blade. His column appears every other Sunday. His radio commentary, “Life As We Know It,” can be heard every Monday at 5:44 p.m. during “All Things Considered” on WGTE FM 91. Contact him at: twalton@theblade.com.

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