By Terrance Gavan
Not everyone likes hockey.
Not every kid plays hockey.
Cue the gasps.
And not every kid in Canada grows up with visions of Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, Mario Lemieux, or Wayne Gretzky bouncing around his or her noggin.
Some kids, believe it or not, are like me.
They have a poster of Jeff Stoughton and Cheryl Bernard – or Glen Howard, or Jennifer Jones – hanging on the wall of their bedrooms.
Men and women with brooms?
But of course.
This is Canada, where eight months of ice, snow and howling nor’westers mandate a hallowed hall of solace, refuge, and contemplative activity.
Don’t you dare! Touch! That! Bloody! Rock!
Okay, so maybe a curling club is not so much a chapel, but a community hub, where we can all get mad at winter together.
Curling … fun?
Damn right it is.
I am fully cognizant of the great leap of faith involved.
But the fact remains that curling, along with hockey, are two Olympic sports where Canada is expected to medal (as in Gold) in both women’s and men’s competition.
It’s nice to have options.
Nice that we have some vibrant programs that cater to a diversity of interest, pace, talent and skill set.
And very invigorating that every fall, winter and spring, for the past 20-plus years or so, the Haliburton Curling Club (HCC) has been sponsoring youth curling.
Bob MacNaull, an active member of the HCC executive – and the man in charge of recruitment and youth curling for the past two seasons – is a vibrant supporter of the club’s junior curling program.
Responding to a decline in youth curling numbers three years ago, MacNaull made a promise to invest – with the full support of the executive, a program wholeheartedly endorsed last Sunday at the HCC Annual General Meeting – in a weekly development program for kids in the community.
Every Tuesday afternoon, from 4 to 5:30 pm, 21 young hard rock kids gather for a short clinic followed by some competitive ends.
“Our junior curling program is going great,” said HCC President Bruce Martin, during the AGM last Sunday afternoon. “Wanda Robinson is into youth curling and she’s been knocking on doors to see if we can get money from businesses for busing.”
Martin says that the busing comprises the largest expense for the club, but adds that the club is committed to paying for busing to support the growth of the program.
Cost is $60 per kid from September to March Break, and the club provides a yearly stipend for the purchase of brooms, sliders and other equipment.
And thankfully there is no shortage of qualified instructors willing to take the time to nurture the budding generation of future Furby’s and Bernard’s.
Robinson and JD Hodgson Elementary teacher Jim Hopkins have been mentoring some of the younger curling novitiates for the last three Tuesday afternoons.
“I think it’s really great for the kids, and we teach the basics, but we’re here to make sure that the kids are having fun,” says Hopkins.
Robinson’s eyes light up when she talks about her own experiences.
“It’s really amazing how quickly they’re picking up the game,” says Robinson, who is a member of the County Voice design team.
Russ Duhaime is a level 3 curling coach, certified through the Ontario Curling Association and Curling Canada.
He was at the club last Tuesday lending his expertise and working on all facets of the game with the young players.
For the past several years he has also been helping out Hal High Red Hawk curling Coach Tom Dibblee with technical and situational support.
Of course Russ is also the dad of Hal High’s 2008 Gore Provincial champs Connor and Owen Duhaime.
Connor is now skipping on the Ontario junior circuit and attending university.
Owen is still curling with the Red Hawks and was present last Monday just after the competitive curling league wrapped. (The high school curls as a unit in the Monday night league.)
He was smiling and nodding when his mom and dad asked gently if he would be joining the Tuesday afternoon sessions as a coach after soccer season wraps this week.
No pressure of course; nudge, wink.
But Owen, who benefited from the junior curling system when he was growing up and playing out of the Minden Curling Club, is actually pretty pleased to be able to give back to a new crop of young sweepers.
Russ says that the kids learn the finer points of the slide, release, sweep and technical aspects during a short set of drills at the beginning of the session. He says that it’s very important to keep drills to a minimum.
Then he says it’s time to throw, sweep and hurry hard – or whoa!
“Kids get bored with drills very quickly,” laughs Russ.
So the coaches – bulwarked by club members MacNaull, Marilyn Whittaker and Mary-Lou Waggett – all try to keep the young curlers engaged for about 15 to 20 minutes of teaching, followed by some four-on-four ends.
MacNaull says that the game in Canada relies on grass roots recruitment, but it’s imperative to develop a vibrant entry level experience through these youth programs.
Russ says he’s involved because he knows just how important to keep kids engaged in an activity in their early years.
“Get kids involved, and we’ve got better kids, better communities and a better society,” says Russ.
Amen, Brother Russ.