The last time I played some serious competitive curling was back in Canada in 1977. Our schoolgirl team represented Base Borden Collegiate Institute (BBCI) from Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Borden, Ontario in the All Ontario School Girl Champion Playoffs. Back then, all we had to do was show up to play! Our coaches did all the paperwork and submitted our entry to the playoffs. Later, the local paper would run pictures and a column on how we did. The articles were clipped, placed in a scrapbook, and reminisced over years later.
At age 18, we practically lived at the curling club (dedicated ice) and had all the practice time we needed to keep up our skills. We graduated from straw brooms called Beaver Tails to the noisy, booming Rink-Rat brooms. The ice was perfect, not a hair of it was negative. Socialization was a must after every game. We kept our own scores. Rarely were umpires needed. The ice was always swept and pebbled between games. Wooden boards marked the boundaries between sheets of ice. Heavy, warm curling sweaters were the fashion statement back then. Sliders were made from Javex bleach bottles and glued to the bottom of your curling shoe. We wore jingle bells on our sliding foot for good luck! People smoked and drank on the ice during non-competitive play! Competition was intense, but so was comradery! Everything was much simpler back then!
Fast forward to 2015, Arena Nationals Curling Playoffs in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This writer is now a little older and wiser. I now skip a women’s team representing the Lone Star Curling Club out of Austin, Texas. What a change in scenery, climate, and curling itself. No longer the groomed dedicated ice of old, but arena ice! This adds a lot more variables to the competition. The uncomplicated game of curling has become electronically micro-managed. Numerous volunteers sit at laptops in the upper viewing deck of the Cedar Rapids Curling Club. Intelligent looking geeks continuously input data and statistics. This instantly notifies the world how all the arena teams are playing, in real time. This is done via the Computer Geek program. Anyone can access and observe virtual curling, again, in real time. Various umpires and volunteers converse with each other using blue tooth headsets and ear pieces. They all hold stop watches and clipboards. Games are now timed and pressure is on curlers to keep the event going at a good pace. We are constantly watching the clock to make sure we stay on time, and not waste a minute. At the conclusion of each game, the skips all “sign their lives away” on the statistics sheets kept by each game monitor.
The ice is super keen! Wonderful icemakers from USA Curling have been brought in to make perfect sheets for this event on an Olympic sized arena. It takes several days to layer demineralized water on top of new rings, 6 sheets in all, but only 5 were utilized in the competition. Large bumper pads separate the scoreboards at one end, the 6th sheet of ice, and the team break areas at the other end. Umpires manage the scoreboards and measure questionable rocks with precision measuring sticks. In between games, two USA Curling Association professional icemakers groom the sheets with the accuracy of an Ice King machine. Pebbling is next, the old fashioned way, sprinkling water on the sheets of ice while walking backwards. That technique has remained the same. If you are close enough and lucky, you can be baptized by the pebbler at no charge! Next comes a final fine scraping of the ice dusted with a lambskin wool to take off the pebble head. All new techniques in this 21st century.
Players wore all kinds of colorful team uniforms, shirts, kilts, and leggings. Nowadays, brooms are made of horsehair or the popular microfiber brush heads. Sadly, no noise emanates from them, they have become silent. I did catch a glimpse of an old straw broom used by a skip to deliver his rock! Ahh, the glory days! A newer broom, made in Canada, is starting to emerge. It is lightweight with a silicone brushing surface that does not attract any dirt and makes the rock go further! Must be careful not to slip on it while sweeping! Technology is wonderful!
Local television sports personalities, and internet media are covering the event. A cameraman has been designated to take pictures of all teams as well as action shots during the competition. I noticed no change in the intensity and focus of this curling event. We all had our “game faces” on! Pictures were then loaded onto the USA Curling Website Facebook Page for all the world to view! Amazing! Also set up for our viewing pleasure are the same pictures flashing on a computer screen in the venue. No sooner had one game’s pictures been taken, they were instantly downloaded for the many followers on Facebook.
Players snapped pictures with their cell phones and forwarded them to family and friends via text or Facebook. Text messages abounded keeping players and their teams informed. I never had so many text messages this past week between our team and club members! It was nice to have our “virtual coaches” from LSCC in Austin, encouraging us throughout the games. We had well-wishers all the way from Canada supporting us!
Our LSCC teams had sponsors who were very generous in donating shirts, jackets, and gear bags beautifully embroidered with their logo and our names. We were spoiled. A “Go Fund Me” account was established, and we made just over $200. This was split between the teams to assist with rental car expenses. LSCC teams had been blessed!
Available for purchase, a vendor produced unique t-shirts and pants with numerous iron-on logos for the Arena National Curling event. If we were in need of curling gear, another vendor had a trailer in the parking lot. Brooms, shoes, gloves, and broom heads were available. It was comforting to see several old customs surviving the years. Teams traded their club pins with their opposition after the game as a goodwill gesture. The second custom included “broom stacking” after the game, where the winners bought the losers a drink, and socialized with them after the game. And on Saturday evening, a fine banquet was dished out and enjoyed by all.
In the end, Cedar Rapids, Iowa reminded me of Ontario, Canada. The lay of the land was familiar as was the warmth, and hospitality of the people. The opening ceremonies was simple, with Miss Teen Cedar Rapid singing a beautiful rendition of the national anthem. Bagpipe music played over the speakers as we walked on the ice (a CD perhaps). I remember the days we had a real piper! He would be dressed in a dashing kilt that added excitement to our former tournament events. Some of the lasses wore kilts too. Ahh, those were the days!
All in all, the organization of the event was well done. The food terrific and so delicious. The side trip to Amana Colonies was a wonderful excursion. I am sure there will be more changes to the game of curling and we must adapt, but what continues to be steadfast is the joy, intensity, and satisfaction of playing and sharing a game so well loved by many.