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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Curling, but not at 5 a.m. on the USA Network

Curling+requires+extreme+cooperation+between+all+four+team+members
Curling requires extreme cooperation between all four team members

Curling is perhaps the ultimate sport in which people sit down to watch it and question its inclusion in the Olympics. After all, it looks like two janitors escorting a rock along a floor. The Scottish sport of sliding stones down a sheet of ice to try to get them in a bull’s-eye known as “the house” has frustrated north-easterners for generations, but since it entered the Olympics in 1998, it has exploded in popularity.
That popularity was on full display on March 1 at Broomstones Curling Club in Wayland. Hundreds of first time curlers showed up at an open house that consisted of classroom instruction and a chance to take the ice and learn the basics.
The basics are: two teams of four throw eight stones each in an end (think of it as an inning) and there are ten ends. The stones weigh 44 pounds each and are thrown 150 feet away from the house, or bull’s-eye. In order to slow the rate of deceleration of the stone and make it travel straighter, two team members sweep the ice in front of the stone. At the end of an end, whichever team has a stone closest to the center of the house earns a point, and one additional point for every stone that is closer than the closest opposing stone. Sounds easy, right?

Wrong. As this reporter experienced first hand, this sport is insanely frickin’ tough, but a ton of fun. When Brian McCafferty, our instructor for the day and a board member at Broomstones, was asked what the most common thing he hears from first time curlers is, he had a simple response.
“It’s a-lot harder than it looks.”
McCafferty added, “Some people think that anybody can do it and I guess anybody could but it just depends at the skill level you want to do it at.”
Perhaps it is curling’s similarity to some more recreational sports like bowling that make it seem so easy on TV, but if bowling was as hard as curling is, it would be in the Olympics.
McCafferty explained, “not to diss bowling or shuffleboard, but the extra dynamic of the curl of the stone, and the fact that it takes four people to make a shot, it really is a team sport.” He added, “there’s a-lot of finesse on the difference between throwing that stone through the back of the house vs. placing it in the perfect spot.”
Although Broomstones has been open since 1968, the sport has only really taken off in popularity over the last decade and a half. The Olympics have given the once niche sport mass appeal.
McCafferty had another theory about why the sport has taken off. He said, “I think people look at it and go ‘oh I can do that’ unlike decathlon or luge or some of the other Olympic sports. Those take special equipment and facilities. You don’t need a ton of equipment for curling and all age groups can participate, and it’s such a fun game even if you’re not playing at an Olympic level.”
Curling is nearly as fun as it is challenging. The bumpy nature of the ice makes it much easier to walk on than that stuff on your driveway on cold mornings, and the camaraderie between two sweeping partners is second to none. It is a very vocal sport and one that is built on traditions, the most notable of which is that the winning team buys the first round of drinks for the losing team after a match.
Perhaps the challenge, the fun, and traditions have contributed to curling’s meteoric rise in popularity. In fact, Broomstones has become so popular that they have been forced to turn away new members this year. When asked why more curling clubs haven’t opened up in Massachusetts in recent years, McCafferty said, “they are popping up, but it takes very specialized ice to curl. There are a few hockey facilities that are curling on arena ice, but it’s a different experience, and those are typically run for profit. The arena is obviously operating and trying to figure out a way to stretch a few more dollars out of there plan by renting out their ice for curling.”
No matter what, curling can be tricky, especially for first timers. McCafferty did have a great tip, though. When asked for one piece of advice to a potential curler, he said, “balance is the hardest thing, so you really have to relax. Once you’re balanced and focused on your delivery, everything else just comes naturally.” He added, “people need to overcome their fear of the ice, if people aren’t scared of being on such a slippery surface, they do a-lot better.”
For an hour or a lifetime, curling will always entertain and frustrate it’s participants, but once you get the basics down, there are very few more fun ways to spend a winter afternoon.
For more information on Broomstones, visit www.broomstones.com