Local curlers learn the slippery ropes

Holding onto a stabilizing bar, Liana Bauerle of Boothwyn delivers the stone during a learn to curl lesson for novices at the 2014 USA Curling National Championships in Aston. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Holding onto a stabilizing bar, Liana Bauerle of Boothwyn delivers the stone during a learn to curl lesson for novices at the 2014 USA Curling National Championships in Aston. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Posted: March 07, 2014

On TV, it's the Winter Olympics sport that looks as if your Aunt Millie could do it.

Somebody pushes a cute little round stone down the ice, and two people sweep a broom - or something like it - down the frozen surface.

A cinch.

That's kind of what Dave Robillard of Pottstown thought until he stepped onto the rink at the IceWorks Skating Complex in Aston and had to curl for himself.

"You've got to keep your butt in the air with a 42-pound stone in one hand, a stabilizer in the other, and then you've got to push off to make the rock do certain things - and keep your balance," said Robillard, 66, a retired information technology manager.

Aunt Millie wouldn't stand a chance. Curling takes a lot of talent, finesse and skill.

That was part of the lesson learned by Robillard and the 400 other novices who signed up for a series of "Learn to Curl" lessons offered this week as part of the 2014 USA Curling National Championships. The eight-day competition is being held at IceWorks through Saturday.

The sport, with roots that go back to 16th century Scotland, routinely experiences a spurt in popularity after the Olympics spotlight, said Terry Kolesar, communications director for the U.S. Curling Association, the sport's national governing body.

The learn-to-curl lessons, now a regular part of the annual national championships, are designed to introduce people to the sport, stir interest, and help local clubs increase their membership, Kolesar said.

This year's sessions at IceWorks sold out quickly, said Anthony Lorusso, the complex's director of social media. Individuals, families, groups, and businesses snapped up the $10-per-30-minute session tickets. So far, students have been as young as 5 and as old as 60-something.

Curlers from clubs in Bucks County, Philadelphia, Irvington, N.Y., and Plainfield, N.J., volunteered to teach the classes.

"When you say curling, people perk up and say, 'Oh, the sweeping game,' " said Delany Brittain of Havertown, a writer and curler who is teaching this week.

Often that is the extent of a new student's knowledge, said Brittain, of the Philadelphia Curling Club. The lessons are a primer on the sport known as "chess on ice," in which the goal is to propel granite discs (called stones) down a 150-foot icy alleyway to a bullseye and outscore the opposing team. The sweeping motion affects the direction and speed at which the discs travel toward the bullseye, also known as "the house."

During the session, students learn how to push the stone without falling and how to sweep, said teacher Dean Roth of the Plainfield Curling Club.

On Tuesday, Robillard was joined by his wife, Debby, who had purchased the lesson tickets after waking up in the wee hours of the morning to watch Olympic curling from Russia and sip her morning coffee.

"Every four years, I'd think, 'I really want to learn to do that,' " Debby Robillard said. The couple spent the day at IceWorks, learning to curl and watching the competition.

Steven Shimp, a financial adviser from Wilmington, and his 8-year-old daughter, Olivia, took lessons with Shimp's colleague from Ameriprise, a financial planning firm that planned the group outing.

Two of the four people in Shimp's group slipped several times during the 30-minute session. Despite that, the best part of the day was trading high finance for ice time, Shimp said, and "having Olivia try something new."

Barbara Bookhart of New Castle, Del., made her first attempt at pushing the stone down the ice and landed on her rear.

But soon, she felt more comfortable on the slick surface.

"It's not as bad as the black ice we've had to deal with outside," said Bookhart, 59, a retired secretary.

Her husband, Win, 49, an agricultural scientist who studies the composition of pesticides, described the game as one that requires the skill to push a stone 510 yards and land it within an inch of a designated spot.

Said Win Bookhart: "Agricultural science is easier."


U.S. Curling Championships

What: U.S. National Curling Championships.

Where: IceWorks Skating Complex, 3100 W. Dutton Mill Rd., Aston.

Schedule: Women - quarterfinals, Thursday, 8 p.m.; semifinals, Friday, 4 p.m.; finals, Saturday, 10 a.m. Men - quarterfinals, Friday, noon; semifinals, Friday, 8 p.m.; finals, Saturday, 3 p.m.

For more info: Call 610-497-2200 or visit www.iceworks.net


kholmes@phillynews.com

610-313-8211

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