Throwing rocks through grass roots

My son (that’s not him in the photo) is not into team sports. In fact, up to this point, I didn’t think he was into any organized physical activities. That was before volunteers from King Curling Club hit the local schools with their Little Rocks program. It’s not exactly curling but, kids get a general idea, and my little guy couldn’t get enough.

Before we had children, we tossed around the idea of taking up curling. Then, I got pregnant, and we forgot all about what, to us, seemed like this exotic old-school Canadian thing to do. But, after months of hearing him talking non-stop about curling, at every turn, I caved and signed him up for the second half of the season. Let me tell you that it was the best decision ever!

He started in January. Almost everybody else started back in September. Instead of tossing him onto a rink full of kids who were a lot more proficient, the club dedicated a person to work with my boy, one-on-one, until he was ready to join the others. A week after he started, another boy signed up, and they did the same thing for him.

Don’t get the wrong idea. It’s not just for boys. The curling ice is open to everybody.

The teenager who mentored my little guy that first day was incredibly patient and supportive on the ice. I was impressed right away.

Then, after everybody relaxed in the lounge, as per custom, he blew me away by making a point of coming over to congratulate my son on his first time out. Patting him on the back, he said, “I started when I was your age. It took me a lot longer to do what you did out there today. You’ve got a real knack for it.”

My son tried to play it cool but, you could tell how much that meant to him. He felt them accept him as their own, even though his mentor for the day was twice his age.

“It’s a good sport, open to anybody from any age,” says outgoing president Karl Davis. “We’ve got kids at seven or six playing, and we’ve got eighty-five year-olds playing. Everybody is very generous with teaching each other and volunteering their time.

The coaches are all trained by the Ontario Curling Association.” This year, the club introduced an instructional 8-week ‘learn to curl for adults’ component to encourage people to take a shot at throwing rocks. You’re never too young or too old. I’m thinking of signing up too.

Kids get hot chocolate after each match, and parents take turns bringing in snacks. The rest of the time, the lounge is a fully licensed bar. All the volunteers have their Smart Serve license, though the club did do away with the two-drink minimum tradition because they didn’t want anybody having excuses to drive home drunk. There’s never any pressure to socialize. People just want to.

As the weeks went by, more seasoned volunteers took over coaching the little guys as the teen who took the extra time to welcome my son went back to practising with his team. All of the coaches do an amazing job, full of insight, patience and encouragement. Partway through our coach left for vacation, and another volunteer stepped in, offering fresh insight. Nobody missed a beat. Absolutely everybody there is a volunteer. Nobody gets paid for the hours they spend to benefit the club.

The sense of camaraderie, regardless of how long they’ve known each other, is incredible. I’ve never seen such a judgment-free, encouraging and supportive group of individuals, except for maybe the staff at the King Public Library (but that’s a whole other story).

I’m still learning about the culture of curling. But, as a parent of a kid who isn’t into hockey, I am grateful to people like Karl, and so many others, for spending the past ten years turning the club into the self-sustaining, well-oiled machine that it is today.

Initially, there were two separate clubs. Curling was going strong in the area for over 50 years. Both Karl’s father and grandfather curled. Wednesday was curling night in Schomberg, and Thursday nights were spent in Nobleton. The new rink at the Trisan Centre encouraged their amalgamation.

The beautiful, dedicated curling rink and pub-style lounge at the Trisan Centre were the outcomes of a true grass roots movement. Everybody just got together and poured a lot of effort into preparing a case to present to the Township.

Now, they had a new challenge: “It’s kind of interesting because we had forty-eight people in Nobleton and maybe eighty at Schomberg. Now we had all this ice to fill,” recalls Karl’s wife, Barb Davis. “So with a lot of volunteer help and recruiting we ended up the first year having 328 curlers, 100 of which probably never curled before,” the two chuckled.

“It was all hands on deck trying to get everybody to learn how to curl and build leagues and everything else,” remembers Karl. “None of us had ever started a club before so, we had a steep learning curve.” It took them a couple of years to get things to the point they are at now. Out of the current 350 members, 100 are volunteers, dedicating their free time to doing everything from preparing the ice to planning bonspiels, manning booths at community events, and going to schools the way they did to get my family interested.

It’s normal for King Curling Club to experience an annual ten to fifteen per cent attrition rate. As a result, recruiting is vital to its ongoing success. “We have to recruit thirty to forty people every year just to man the club. And we’ve been able to do that,” boasts Karl. “Finding people to sit on the Board has never been a problem. Everybody knows they have to serve their time.”

Despite the marginally selfish reasons for being so welcoming to newbies, I challenge you to find one person at King Curling Club who’ll treat you like they are doing you a favour for coming out. From what I’ve seen, people who find a connection with the sport tend to have a genuine desire to share their love of it in a way that is as Canadian as you can get: polite, courteous and generous to a fault. They see it as simply being part of the community.

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