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Wednesday, December 12, 2018  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Chess on ice: Curling requires strategy and skill

While channel-surfing during the past Winter Olympics, you may have come across it – a game of shuffleboard on ice, where skippers yell in various languages at their teammates sweeping frantically ahead of a sliding 40-pound stone.

You, like so many others, may have found yourself inexplicably drawn to this “goofy” game. For several founding members of curling clubs throughout the Inland Northwest, that is how it all began – watching television at odd hours of the night, trying to decipher this enigma on ice.

In many towns and cities throughout Canada, instead of basketball courts (a mainstay in the United States) you will find curling rinks.

It should be no surprise Canada’s men’s team has won gold in curling for the past three Winter Olympics, while their women’s team won gold in 2014 and has made the podium every year curling has been an event.

At first glance, it may be hard to understand how the sport got its name. The same goes for its nickname, “chess on ice.”

But after one session, the answers become crystal clear.

In Scotland, where the sport owes it roots, they call it “the roaring game,” a reference to the sound the stone makes while traveling across pebbled ice.

It is a game that elicits many unexpected sensations – the caress of cold ice on your knee during a delivery, the sweat beading on your forehead while sweeping, the clanking sounds of stones meeting within the house. It will tap your mental facilities – does your team score that last stone or take the hammer for the next end?

Each curling team consists of four players. A typical game lasts eight to 10 rounds, which are referred to as “ends.” During each end, each player will throw two stones, equaling a total of eight stones thrown per team, 16 per end.

The objective, similar to lawn bowling or bocce ball, is to get your team’s stones closest to the button (the innermost circle) inside the house (a bull’s-eye consisting of four rings). The players whose stones sit closest to the button win the end. The winning team is awarded one point per stone closer to the button than their opponents’.

Prior to a match, someone will spray the ice with water droplets, thus “pebbling” the ice, so when a player releases a stone at the hog line (the release line) with a slight spin, friction between the granite and ice will cause the stone to curl (hence the name of the sport).

Two sweepers will join the stone during its trip down the ice toward the house. Their job is to do one of three things – extend the travel distance of the stone, reduce the amount of curl placed upon it, or both.

Once the stone reaches the line horizontally bisecting the house, called the tee line, only one member from the stone’s team may continue sweeping. Also, at this time, once that stone’s edge crosses the tee line, a member from the opposing team may sweep however he sees fit.

The team that does not score receives what is called the hammer, next round. The hammer is the last stone played. Because the hammer is a valuable commodity, teams will often discuss whether it’s worth scoring or having the hammer going forward.

The team’s captain, referred to as the skipper, will call out to the sweepers, instructing them whether to back off or really put some elbow grease into it.

“It’s harder than it looks,” said Rick McCrickard, Lilac City Curling Club board member. “The guys on the Olympics make it look effortless. Getting your slide technique down is probably the most difficult. A lot of people struggle a little bit with the curling of the stone.

“It’s your momentum that actually pushes the stone if the ice is good. Otherwise, you have to shove the heck out of the stone to get it to make it. It’s your slide that gives the stone its momentum.”

Lilac City Curling Club hosted its Curling Clinic last Sunday. This Sunday, it will be kicking off its third season in Spokane.

“We’ve got bus drivers, we’ve got scientists, financial analysts, we have real estate people (playing the game with us),” McCrickard said.

“Even if they haven’t tried the game … don’t worry about having never curling before. We’re happy to teach you. We have teams that are playing each other, and the skip for the opposite team is just as quick to help out the other team as he is himself.”

Spots are on the Lilac City Curling Club’s roster are still available, but teams are filling up fast and registration will close Friday night for the fall session. Signups will remain open for the winter session until the end of the year. Visit the Parks and Recreation Department website to sign up: /sports/others/, or call My Spokane at (509) 625-3200.

Lilac City Curling Club hosts matches at the Ice Palace in Riverfront Park every Sunday from 6-10 p.m., for seven weeks. People are encouraged to come down and watch. If an extra sheet of ice is available, people are welcome to come down onto the ice and give the sport a try.

The club provides all necessary equipment to participants. There is no cost for demoing the sport. The individual cost for registering for a team is $125. All participants must sign a waiver prior to playing.

At the Ice Palace, though it is covered, outdoor elements still affect the game. While at the championship level every single detail – temperature, humidity, frequency of pebbling – is monitored and controlled, Lilac City Curling Club must contend with Mother Nature.

“One side of that arena is right next to the river,” McCrickard said. “We find that moisture from the river comes in and kind of slows down the ice. When it dampens, it gets slower. When it’s warmer, it’s slower.”

The Coeur d’Alene Curling Club got its start on a pond when a group of North Idaho teachers poured cement into spaghetti pots and threw them at spray-painted lines on the ice. Today, there is cross-participation between Coeur d’Alene and Lilac City. The clubs hope to eventually host a bonspiel (tournament), perhaps sparking a friendly rivalry. Coeur d’Alene will host their third annual bonspeil on May 1.

A passion for curling exists throughout Montana, especially in Missoula where they boast their own outdoor arena. Mountains to the north and east provide a scenic backdrop to this venue. They will host their own bonspiel this March.

After a great game of curling, there is only one thing left to do: broomstacking (if you’re old enough).

Teams meet at the bar afterward, in keeping with the tradition where players would leave the pond and stack their brooms beside the fireplace and enjoy a few adult beverages. If your team lost, no worries – the winning team buys the first round.

When asked if Lilac City Curling Club has a broomstacking song, McCrickard said, “We have a couple Canadians. They’re prone to break into ‘Oh, Canada’ on occasion.”

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