By Times Transcript

Moncton is indeed privileged. Not only does it have Olympian Russ Howard, but the city also played host to the Ford World Men’s Curling Championship in April, focusing world attention on the community and sport of curling.

Ashley Howard has taken to curling just like her father, Olympian Russ Howard.

But is that enough to draw many newcomers to the century old sport?

Yes, says Lester Harrison of Moncton, long-time curling enthusiast and president of the World Curling Federation.

It happens after every major curling event including the 1980 Air Canada Silver Broom Men’s World Championships and the 1985 Labatt Brier Canadian Men’s Championships, he explained recently.

People are treated to top notch, exciting curling, which never ceases to captivate many, he said.

There were 7,000 spectators inside the Moncton Coliseum for the final weekend of the men’s championships in April, many of whom are local residents including young people, he said. No doubt that a number of these fans who haven’t tried curling will decide to give it a try at one of Moncton’s three curling clubs this fall, he predicted.

It’s a great sport at any level of play, costs little to participate and promotes good health.

It’s also open to all ages from six to 90-plus years old, including those with disabilities, with the introduction of stick curling where the participants use a stick to push the stone, much like the game of shuffleboard.

It allows the individuals to curl for as long as they want. Not many other sports let you do that, Harrison said.

Curling also has a social side. Many go there to meet and socialize, enjoy themselves in games and friendly competition, he explained.

Interestingly, curling and golf seem to go hand in hand. It’s not unusual to have members who spend their summers on the golf course and winters in the curling rinks.

Harrison noted that if golf memberships seem to be going up, it’s thanks in large part to golfing great Tiger Woods’ influence on the game as well as prize money these pro golfers earn.

The exploits of Howard and Kevin Martin and other Canadian curling greats is helping on the curling side, but it’s up to the individual clubs to attract new members and former curlers and tailer programs to entice them to stay. The clubs all offer different ice times and programs and training clinics to help the new member learn the game.

Curlers will often help newcomers out with pointers and basic instructions. That’s their nature, said Harrison. The challenge is to get those people off the fence and into the rinks.

Moncton’s oldest curling institution is the century-old Moncton Curlers Association at 358 Lutz with the Beaver Curling Club at 70 Capitol Ave. and the Curling Beauséjour Club at 80 Lockhart Ave. created in the mid-1900s.

Curling Beauséjour Club is already open with five sheets of ice but the league season doesn’t begin until October.

Arnold Maillais, past president of the Curling Beauséjour Club, said a curling camp for youths and adults attracted about 40 participants, while the first club bonspiel already has 23 teams signed up.

People interested in trying out curling can come in and inquire. They can also sign up for instructions where they are taught every aspect of the game.

The club schedule is designed to give different groups a chance to play, from the “Little Rocks” who range from six years and up to seniors. They have mens, ladies and mixed play and time slots for people on shift work. They also have corporate league where employees at a company come out and curl for fun.

The YMCA brings groups of youngsters over to the rink for fun on the ice once or twice a week.

Maillais said club representatives spent time in area schools last year trying to interest students to curling.

The exposure on television, in particular the TSN network’s coverage of Canadian and world competition, where commentators explaining the finer points of the game, has been a tremendous boost to curling over the years, he said.

Mallais estimates there are as many as 800 curlers in Metro Moncton. It’s a great way to spend a couple of hours, he said.

No one agrees more than Russ Howard, who boasts there’s over a million reasons why it’s such a great game, about 1.2 million to be more exact, as that is the estimate of Canadians involved in curling.

Howard who incidentally was a golf pro before turning to curling, loves to meet people and curling is one way of doing that.

As for the game itself, it takes patience and strategy and being able to measure each shot, not unlike golf. But not everyone strives for Olympic status. Many just play for the love of the game and to socialize. Nor is it an expensive game compared to other sports, he said.

Curlers are always happy to help. The sports tends to turn them into good samaritans, Howard added.

Curling’s entry into the Olympics has raised the sport’s stature and world appeal with many more countries launching curling programs.

Howard said that unfortunately, Canada’s youth and young adults have far too many distractions that keep them away from trying out curling.

Proponents of the game need to reach out into the school system to further promote curling and its benefits, he said. It’s ranked fourth in sports rated for cardiovascular workouts, he said.

Dale Ronalds who looks after youth programs at the Curling Beausejour Club got interested through his six-year-old daughter who suddenly announced she wanted to learn curling.

“I don’t know where that came from,” he laughs. That was several years ago and now his two daughters love the sport.

When his two children were growing up, he knew where they were, who they were with and what they were doing, he said.

Not only is it more physically challenging than most people think, it’s also a great ethics builder, he said.

Recreation curling is completely different from competitive play. The curlers are there to socialize and have a good time with fun leagues and bonspiels, sometimes as fundraising events, he said.

Ronalds said he’s also seeing more and more local players doing well at higher levels of play which is encouraging.

His advice to everyone taking up the game: curl to improve yourself and your game will take care of itself.

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