Trying to get others swept up in the sport

Curling: A weekend open house brings the curious out onto the ice to learn about the game from the Potomac Curling Club.

January 13, 2004|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The televisions at the Potomac Curling Club at the National Capital Curling Center in Laurel were tuned to the Indianapolis-Kansas City NFL playoff game late Sunday afternoon. But with the Colts clinging to a seven-point lead in the final two minutes, the channels were suddenly changed to a curling competition from Canada.

Curling fans take their sport very seriously, and they used an open house Saturday and Sunday to try and get others to start doing the same.

"There's a lot of interest in curling," club president Derek Surka said. "The Olympics [of 2002] did a great job. I'd love to have the ice here used more."

The center is connected to the Gardens Ice House on Old Gunpowder Road, about a mile from the Howard County line. It opened in January 2002 and members use it regularly to play the game they love as leagues compete every night of the week.

Before the Laurel center opened, for 40 years club members spent one night a week curling at the Cabin John Ice Rink in Rockville. The limited amount of time available for curling is one reason club members had longed for their own facility. They wanted to work on their skills - anytime.

They began an intense fund-raising effort in 1996 and caught a break when Clay Carr, owner of the Gardens Ice House, agreed to let the club attach an independent curling facility to his building. They needed only a few months to build the $1.3 million, 13,500-square-foot structure that opened two years ago.

"This had been a dream of the club, to have a curling-only facility," said Bob Pelletier of Columbia, a former club president. "Now we're trying to get more members."

The club had about 60 members when the building opened. Membership has increased to about 180 - about 20 percent of them from Howard County. Club officials say they have room for plenty more.

"We'd be very happy with 300 members," said treasurer John Bittner. "Essentially, the ice is here and we're not using it as much as we'd like."

Surka said curling has been getting more television coverage in recent years, helping pique interest in the sport.

Curling is played on ice, like hockey, but without skates. Teams have four players and the games usually last about two hours.

Players throw "rocks" or "stones" - which look a bit like a flattened basketball with a handle - down a 146-foot sheet of ice. "Sweepers," players with brooms, rush along in front of the rock to help give it a good path and score points.

People of all ages can play together. According to USA Curling, more than 1.5 million people in 35 nations have taken up the sport, which became a full-medal Olympic sport during the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.

Last weekend's open house was designed to briefly teach people some of the game's intricacies. Participants visited the center and watched videos about curling and heard teachers explain the game before heading onto the ice.

Six-year-old Dallas Dillard of Laurel, one of the youngest of the many of all ages who came to give the game a try, said curling quickly fascinated him.

"It's just fun," he said. "It's hard, though. Pushing and sweeping, it's hard."

Abby Conklin of Montgomery County got to try curling as an early birthday present from her parents.

Abby had been curious about curling since seeing it played on television. A day before her ninth birthday, she was able to try the sport she had been wondering about for the past few months.

"I just love it," she said after coming off the ice. "You don't see it out there as much as basketball, baseball or other sports."

She then stepped back onto the ice for a few minutes and worked on her curling skills some more. Despite slipping and falling, she got up smiling.

Several other groups were honing their skills or learning about the game at the same time.

Meanwhile, in the lobby, the Indianapolis-Kansas City game was on three of the four televisions and down to the final two minutes. However, nobody was paying attention to football, and a few were watching a curling video on the fourth monitor.

But when most televisions were changed to the Canadian match moments later, nearly everyone started paying attention.

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