At the Utica Curling Club, the names of New Hartford residents Bill and Peggy Rotton are imprinted on the club’s granite stones.

The couple, like other members, paid to sponsor those vital pieces of equipment. But the Rottons’ commitment to the sport goes beyond making donations. The Rottons bettered people’s lives.

“Thank God for Bill,” said New Hartford’s Jimmy Joseph, a member of the U.S. Curling Wheelchair National team. “He’s changed so many lives.”

In fact, without the Rottons, there might not be wheelchair curling in the United States. And at the least, the sport might not have a local presence. Less than 10 years ago, the only other place for wheelchair curling in the United States was Maine.

The strong, local influence on the sport will again be showcased this weekend at the Utica Curling Club on Clark Mills Road. It will host the fifth annual U.S. Open International Wheelchair Curling Bonspiel.

Limited curling budgets following the Winter Paralympics earlier this year kept the bonspiel from truly having an international feel.

In the past, teams from Great Britain, Scotland and Norway competed. This year, four teams from Canada and three from the United States entered for one of the last formal competitions before the 2011 World Wheelchair Curling Championships.

“It’s close, they treat us well and it’s not expensive,” said Ottawa team member Doug Morris about the hospitality at the local bonspiel.

Joseph was one of the first wheelchair athletes to get involved in the sport about eight years ago after the Rottons approached Sitrin Health Care adaptive sports director Marc DePerno. The local growth of the sport then became a collaborative effort between Sitrin and the Utica Curling Club.

“We came down, and it took off from there,” said DePerno, who directs Sitrin’s program, the STARS, which stands for Success Through Adaptive Recreation and Sports.

Added Peggy Rotton, “It’s sort of neat isn’t it? We were very pleased that we could do something for someone. My husband in particular was very proud of the program’s benefits for other people.”

Peggy Rotton, 79, still curls. Bill Rotton, 83, is not curling anymore.

Spot locked for Prague

Joseph, who spends six to seven hours a week in practice, is in a good place this weekend. His spot is locked for the world championships in Prague, Czech Republic, on Feb. 21 through March 1.

U.S. coach Steve Brown, of Madison, Wis., is looking for one athlete to round out the roster of the world’s fourth-ranked team. Jacqui Kapinowski, Augusto Perez and James Pierce, Joseph’s Paralympics teammates, also have spots for the world championships.

The U.S. team has an international streak of fourth-place finishes to try to improve upon in Prague. The Americans were fourth at the Paralympics and 2009 world championships.

“We have to execute our shots better,” Joseph said. “Practice, practice, practice. You can’t practice enough.”

One of the four U.S. curlers competing for the open spot is Tammy Delano, of Rome. The fourth-year wheelchair curler has tried out for the U.S. National team every year since she started curling.

Delano, who has participated in other wheelchair curling sports and raced in the Boilermaker, was a female alternate to the Paralympics team. As an alternate, she did not travel to Vancouver, and that’s something she’d like to change for the world championships.

“I think it’d be amazing,” Delano said. “Seven years ago when I started disabled sports, I never thought about the opportunities out there. I just think it would be amazing to be at that level.”

For more information on wheelchair curling or other adaptive sports, contact DePerno at 797-8000.

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