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Friday, December 30, 2011

Grassroots Curling: 2012 Predictions and Resolutions

New Year's is the time to look ahead, so here goes with a few resolutions and predictions for the new year.

1. Prediction: Curling will grow at the grassroots level.

Yes, the 2010 Olympics had a great influence on the sport, and Learn-to-Curl sessions all over North America went crazy after viewers had a chance to see the madness that was Olympic curling (thank you, fans!). But the appeal of curling will not slow down, particularly as parents look for a winter sport that's affordable and doesn't involve the risk of concussions.

2. Prediction: McEwen, Jacobs and the new boys will move in on Martin, Stoughton, Howard and the old boys.

It's not really a grassroots issue, but change is coming at the top. Some would say it's already here: a shift of the old guard.

On the women's side, the movement is a bit slower, as demonstrated by last year's Scotties. Yes, Rachel Homan is as fearless and skilled as those old-timers - Jones, Kleibrink, Bernard - but the kids still have a bit to learn about patience and execution under pressure. Nobody beats Jennifer Jones for clutch curling. (And can we just lay the Jones vs. Overton-Clapham thing to rest? It's over. This isn't high school.)

3. Prediction. There will be more cowbells

The CCA got a bad rap when fans and media jumped up in furious indignation at the removal of Amber Holland's cowbell choir at the Canada Cup in December. In fact, the removal was entirely due to an over-zealous security official at the venue - nothing to do with CCA policy or orders. More cowbells, people!

4. Resolution: Get fit

My son has taken up the sport. His school joined a local high school curling league for the first time ever. With no teachers on staff who know the sport, I was recruited to coach. No, I'm not a coach. I'm a curler. But at least I know the rules, the strategy and the names of things, which is more than any of the kids did (well, except for our two young skips, brothers, who were the driving force behind getting this initiative going).

Watching these kids out on the ice - especially seeing how quickly they adapt to the demands of flexibility, balance and strength required by the sport - brings home to me how unfit I am when I step on the ice. Yes, I work out regularly, I do some stretching, I lift a few weights. But I feel the effort settling in on my muscles and joints after a game.

For Christmas, I gave my son John Morris's "Fit To Curl". Actually, I kind of got it for myself.

5. Resolution: Enjoy

If the coaching gig (see above) has taught me anything, it's this: I love this game. Watching newbies experience curling for the first time, watching their skills grow along with their enthusiasm, I'm reminded of my first few years in the sport and how, for a few seasons, I basically curled my brains out. Leagues, bonspiels, playdowns, club involvement, coaching kids, running events - the whole package. It was just awesome.

Over the years since then, family, job, no free time, financial constraints - all these things conspired  to keep me from the game I love. I'm back, and I'm going to enjoy it.

Oh, and I'm going to get myself a cowbell too.

Happy New Year from Grassroots Curling!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Grassroots Curling: Busy off and on the ice this season

The 2011-2012 curling season is going to the busiest one ever - for me, anyway.

Am I a competitive curler with my sights set on zones and regionals? Am I signed up for multi-leagues, major leagues, three or more nights a week of rec curling at the local club?

Nope. But here's what I am doing:

1. Writing

I'm writing about curling. Writing a lot. Last year it was The Curling News; this year, it's the Canadian Curling Association's website. Here's a peek at what's on my To Do List:

Editing Featured Athlete profiles, some written by Al Cameron of the Calgary Herald; some (profiles of junior, wheelchair and blind curlers) written by me.

Editing and posting short newsy reports about the upcoming Season of Champions events - and there are hundreds of them! Multiples almost every day of the week.

Editing columns that appear on the website: Making Great Ice, House Call, Pebbles to Boulders, and my personal fave, Youth Olympic Dreams (I love the voice of Emily Gray, the young curler who writes about her journey towards competing in the 2012 Youth Olympic Games. What a sweetheart!)

Writing Around The House, a bi-monthly visit to curling clubs around the country - telling their stories.

Writing feature stories about the sport. My first big story will show up on the CCA website this week. No previews - sorry!

Lots of writing, lots of deadlines, lots of great curling content for fans and curlers alike. I'm thrilled to be part of it.

2. Curling

One night a week (Sigh. Wish it were more...) skipping a team in the Business Women's league at my local club. Haven't won a game yet. Don't care. Having fun!

3. Coaching

My son's high school is dipping its toes for the first time in the local high school curling league. No other parents have curling experience. None of the teachers are familiar enough with the game to coach. I'm it. Yikes! 

So a busy season ahead in my own curling life, and of course, a busy season ahead in the curlingspere too. Can't wait to share it here on Grassroots Curling.


....Oh, and did I mention that I'll be attending the Brier championship weekend in Saskatoon...?

And I hope Glenn Howard is there.... (Photo J. Mills)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Life of a Curling Writer: Not always easy to convince editors that curling is a story worth telling

Action at the Fergus Curling Club (Photo Jean Mills)

I'm a curler, yes, but I'm also a writer, and writing about something you love has got to be the best way to spend your time. (Getting paid for it is nice, too, which happens sometimes...)

One story I really want to write about is curling families - you know, all those grassroots and elite curlers who are out there on the ice with various combinations of family members. I pitched this story to Reader's Digest a year ago and after some initial excitement (why wouldn't they be excited; it's a great story!) they turned it down. I had Russ Howard on board to talk about his own family's experiences, and Joan McCusker was lined up, too. The story died. Sometimes I hate freelancing.

But, where there's a will...

As the editor of my local freelance writer's blog (the Guelph Chapter of the Professional Writers Association of Canada), I'm in charge of posting content. So when Around the House, the blog I write for the Canadian Curling Association, went live today, I quickly posted a blurb (which I've included below for anyone interested in the perils of the writing life) about my rejected-story experience. My writing friends got to read about the writing side of the story, and at the CCA website, my curling community gets to read about why curling really is an "all in the family" sport.

Win, win.

Curling and writing: I could do this for a living....


Some of my Guelph PWAC colleagues heard my sad story last year of a pitch to Reader's Digest that started out full of promise and went suddenly to the "Sorry, not interested" file - after I had put two increasingly detailed proposals together, at RD's request. That's a lot of work - unpaid, of course.

My story about curling being a family affair originally caught the attention of RD editors, especially when I secured the support of Olympic gold medallists Russ Howard and Joan McCusker. Both Russ and Joan have great stories which exemplify curling's unique qualities as a family-oriented sport. RD was interested. "Very" interested, in fact. Emails were flying between me and my sources, me and the RD editors. Proposals, interviews, encouragement and excitement from all parties.

And then, out of the blue, the phrase that freelance writers never want to hear: "No thanks." Darn. 

Glenn Howard in action (Photo Jean Mills)
But all was not lost. A recent interview with a curler who is going to a national championship with his dad on the team got me thinking. I resurrected the "all in the family" idea and blogged about it for my weekly gig with the Canadian Curling Association. It's not quite the story I set out to write for RD, but it sure captures the essence of it. Curling really is a family affair.  You can read it (and see a photo of two generations of smiling Howards) here:

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Piss-cutter and Make It Go Away: Curling words to live by

As a curling writer, I'm fascinated by the language of the game. Friends of mine told me that when they tried to watch the Olympic curling event, they were in stitches over the indecipherable language - "code" they called it - used by the announcers. Try it: turn your curling antenna off and just listen to the lingo used to describe our game. It's pretty darn strange.

But there's always room for word evolution in curling.

At the recent Scotties, Saskatchewan (now Team Canada) skip Amber Holland drew lots of attention for her unusual lingo during a few games.

Referring to one of her rocks as a "piss-cutter" got people talking. Is that a bad word? What does it mean? How did that one get by the censors?

Truth is, the term is not as inappropriate as you might think.  Although I haven't concluded my research, it appears that the term is in common usage in the U.S. Marine corps, as the name of a certain type of folded cap worn with a uniform. But it's also been found as far afield as New Brunswick, as a term for something outstanding or good. "A real piss-cutter of a job", says Bill Casselman, collector of unusual Canadian terms, means to do a really good job of something. (You can read Bill's blog, here).

An article in the National Post in which Amber got "cornered" by reporter Cory Wolfe, suggests that the term is actually from Old English. I checked in with Professor Elizabeth Greene at Queen's University, a Old English specialist, and she says the term doesn't ring any bells with her. (We both went running for our copies of Beowulf and found nothing).

So the truth is out there, readers.  If anyone can help nail this one down, I'd love to know.


How often have we heard the announcers (and occasionally, curlers) preface a hit with the phrase: "We just want to make it go away."

Now, my question is, have curlers always been using this phrase - make it go away - or is it the invention of the late Sandra Schmirler (my theory)?

I can remember Sandra discussing shots with Jan Betker, her third, in the house and announcing that the plan was to "make it go away", at which point TSN announcers Vic, Linda and Ray would laugh in approval.

My question: did Sandra invent this term? Does anyone remember "Make it go away" being used in curling parlance before the late 1990s?

The language of curling: another reason to love the Roaring Game. (And of course we know where that term came from....right?)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Jennifer Jones vs Cathy Overton-Clapham: Let's move on, please.

Okay, it's done.  Thank goodness.

Cathy Overton-Clapham and her Team Manitoba won the big grudge match against her former team, led by skip Jennifer Jones.

Now, let me translate that statement into the unspoken language of the media feeding frenzy that surrounded this game:

Poor Cathy Overton-Clapham and her second-choice Team Manitoba kicked butt in the big grudge match against her mean former teammates, led by that evil b***h, skip Jennifer Jones.

Clearly the crowd was in Cathy's corner. So was the media. So was the Twitter-sphere.

And it's not hard to understand why. Being fired from her team - reports make it clear that the other three players made the decision among themselves - came as a nasty shock to Cathy O. There goes her chance to be part of Team Canada, play in the Continental Cup, receive funding - all of that, gone. And all because Jennifer Jones decided the team needed someone else, someone with better knees, someone who was not Cathy.

So yes, we feel sorry for her.


A curling team is like any other relationship. There's a lot that goes on behind closed doors that we aren't privy to. Disagreements, attitudes, incidents. Who knows what really went on in the Jones team? Only Jennifer, Cathy, Jill and Dawn.

The media grabbed this story and ran with it because the drama was just too good to miss.  The fans embraced it too, perhaps helped along by the media. Who can blame them?

So the game has finally taken place: Team Canada against Team Manitoba. Jennifer against Cathy. And Cathy won, to the delight of the loudly cheering fans.

But this is what bothers me:

When have you ever seen a game at the Scotties where the fans were not just cheering FOR one team, they were doing so in order to cheer AGAINST another?

Jennifer Jones isn't my favourite curler, but she's a fierce competitor who plays to win. I respect her. I've seen her haul games back into her control and win them, when it looked as if all was lost. She's a fighter, and when she's on the world stage with the Maple Leaf on her back, she does us proud.

But the Scotties crowd - helped by the media - were not behind her in tonight's game. They weren't even politely tolerant of her. They were against her, and they made that loudly and abundantly clear.

The whole thing was ugly, and I'm glad it's over. Let's move on, please.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Scotties: Why didn't Jennifer Jones play her last shot against PEI?

Some action on Twitter suggests that people are not happy with Jennifer Jones for bailing on her last shot in Monday night's game against PEI.

She should have thrown it, tried the triple, made a go of it (think some people).  Why would she just give up? Don't the paying customers deserve to see her at least try?

All good points.

But the way I see it:

She analyzed the situation - and we all know, no one can analyze a game like JJ can - and saw no hope. The triple was not there. She's a curler, not a circus performer. She's there to win (or lose) a game, and move on to the next one.

If JJ says there was no shot, there was no shot. Game over.

With class, and with respect for her opponents, she acknowledge defeat, turned and shook hands. Her team was completely in support.

And the crowd - those paying customers - went home happy.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Curling in the news: Not

I'm feeling pretty cranky this morning.

This weekend saw two fantastically exciting games in the M&M Canadian Junior Curling Championships. Team Saskatchewan (skip Trish Paulsen, third Kari Kennedy, second Kari Paulsen and lead Natalie Yanko) won the Junior Ladies' title on a steal when Alberta's Nadine Chyz's last shot rolled out. Team Saskatchewan (skip Braeden Moskowy, third Kirk Muyres, second Colton Flasch, and lead Matt Langwon the Junior Men's title on a measure - in an extra end, no less.

Both games were exciting, well-played and terrific harbingers of what's to come at the highest levels of the sport. I mean, if the kids can curl like this now, what are they going to be like when they hit the Big Leagues in a year or two?

But this excitement - and the significance of these teams' achievements - was entirely ignored by the press, yet again. My morning Globe & Mail didn't even list the event on its results page. A quick search of the National Post reveals the same.  Yes, the Super Bowl and NHL stories require their coverage - no problem there.

But curling isn't an obscure sport. In Canada, particularly, you can find curling events on television pretty well any weekend after Christmas, and daily during national championships. Think back, way back, to the Olympics. Do I really need to remind anyone about the rabid, raucous, rowdy fans? Curling was cool. Curling was everywhere.

The Globe, "Canada's National Newspaper", however, would rather lift four reports (four!) from the Times of London about cricket, soccer, auto racing and golf rather than file a home-grown report on exciting sporting events played by Canadians, in Canada.

I'd love to hear from our American curling friends about what the press did during their recent Junior Championship. The sport is surging in The States - what's the coverage like there?  Or are you, as we are, marginalized and ignored - unless someone is winning a gold medal or lots of cash?

Yes, I'm cranky. Curlers - time to write some letters. And if you're interested, here's an address to start with:

Friday, February 4, 2011

Jennifer Jones v Cathy Overton-Clapham: Chill, People!

Okay, I know many curling fans are wondering what's going to happen when Team Canada meets Team Manitoba on February 23 in the evening draw at the Scotties.  We all know the story - which I blogged about, here, and which curling writers, including The Globe's Bob Weeks, have covered with enthusiasm. After all, it's fun to watch real-life drama unfold before your eyes, isn't it?

But I think it's time to step away from the drama and let the curlers curl.

The curling world in Canada is its own small (but growing) community. Everyone knows everything about everybody. When teams break up (remember the Gushue-Korab thing? Remember Kevin Martin after the Salt Lake Olympics? What about Jeff Stoughton and the revolving door at third? And then there's Colleen Jones' winning team splintering into Colleen Jones - and her winning team going elsewhere) it's news on Twitter and the blogosphere, in the forums and around the rinks.  It happens. It happened to Jennifer and Cathy. It was ugly, especially for Cathy - and no one blames her for the hurt feelings. She lost a lot in the deal, and there's never a good time to tell somewhere "You're out. We don't want you. Good-bye."

But these elite curlers are, for all intents and purposes, pros. Stuff happens. My prediction is that Team Canada and Team Manitoba will be so focused on their game - and beating each other - that like true pros, they will filter the crappy past out.  They will shake hands before and after, they will curl their brains out, and someone will lose.

And they will move on to the next game...

That is, unless the media and fans go nuts and try to turn this into a degrading celebrity cat fight.

Chill, people.  They're both great teams who deserve to be there. Let the curlers do what they do best.  Curl.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Curling Club Bonspiels: Good Play, Good Name Tags

I remember when I was really little, my mom would head out to her Ladies' bonspiels and come home with a prize (usually) and a cool name tag.  No sticky pre-fabs proclaiming "Hello, My Name Is..."  No, the bonspiels she went to were organized by old-school traditionalists who knew how to do it right. Name tags in the shape of Scottish tams, or flowers, or curling stones, or brooms. All hand-made and worth keeping - which my mom did, for years.

I confess, when I started curling years later, I was tickled to see that at most of the Ladies' bonspiels I attended had the same vision. Cool name tags.  It was one of the things that cemented my already-strong loyalty to the game I had come to love.

But it wasn't just the name tags: it was the crazy, fun, creative, often silly mood that surrounded many of the bonspiels I played in, both Ladies' and Mixed.

There are lots of theories about where the term "bonspiel" derives from, including this detailed and entertaining theory from Bill Casselman's Word of the Day. I like to think it's all about a good (bon) game (spiel) - a mixture of French and German words on some long-ago frozen pond in Scotland.

So take a good game, set it on ice, stir in a strong expectation of fun and food, and you have a bonspiel. That's what I saw at the WGF Continental Cup last week (and you can read my blog about that at Around The House, on the Canadian Curling Association site) and that's what I look for when I see those event posters fluttering up and down the big bulletin board outside the change rooms at my club. These are not playdowns, these are not important competitions.  These are bonspiels: good games. Good friends. Good fun.

Good name tags, too.