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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Newcomers find their niche in sport of curling

Fever sweeps through new league

During curling practice at the Riverfront Park Ice Palace, Josh Engle throws a stone. For the first time in 30-some years, Spokane has a curling league. The new league is full of new curlers, with 80 percent of participants having never curled before. (Colin Mulvany)

The Canadians are famous for it. The Norwegians did it in loud checkered pants. The Scots and the Dutch still argue about who invented it some 500 years ago, though the Scots usually win the argument.

It’s curling. It involves carefully sliding a 40-pound granite rock down the ice, sometimes with two teammates sweeping in front of it. And for the first time since the early ’80s, it’s possible for curling enthusiasts to get a fix in Spokane.

Every Sunday evening, the Lilac City Curling Club holds down the ice at Riverfront Park’s Ice Palace.

“I’d say about 80 percent of us here are first-time curlers,” said Jon Escott, who helped start the league even though he’d never curled before. “Why curling? Well, you see it in the Olympics and you think it’s goofy at first, but then it starts looking like fun.”

There are eight teams in the league and more are expected in January, when Lilac City Curling Club hopes to be able to fill both Sunday and Monday evenings with eager curlers.

But curling? How does one start a curling club when one has never curled before?

“It was just a group of us that got together,” said Escott, who explained that after a few fundraisers the group was lucky enough to get some ice time donated by Eagles Ice-A-Rena, which also had some stones – or rocks – they could borrow.

And as Escott explained it: They just kind of hit the ice.

“It’s just great fun,” he said.

At the Eagles Ice-A-Rena event, some visitors from the original Spokane Curling Club stopped by, bearing gifts.

Jim Thrash, Ron McIntee and Wayne Lucas came in to visit and said they knew where to find Spokane Curling Club’s original stones.

They immediately donated them to Lilac City Curling Club on one condition: They never wanted them back.

“They probably took up a lot of space in someone’s garage,” said Josh Engle, who helped start Lilac City Curling Club. “Seriously, this was huge. We had a lead on 16 stones for $7,000 and that was a steal. Now we have twice as many, and they were free.”

Engle explained the basics of curling: Two teams of four try to slide their rocks as close to the center of the painted round target – the house – as possible. They may knock the other team’s rock out of the house, if they can. One round is called an end, and there are traditionally 10 ends to a game.

“We usually play seven or eight ends because we don’t have time for 10,” said Engle, who was sporting the famous checkered pants like those worn by the Norwegian curling team during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. “The captain of the team is also called the skip. The skip calls the throws. And you can’t touch a rock. If you touch it, it’s out of play.”

OK, so what’s with the crazy fast sweeping?

Engle laughs.

“The sweeping is to regulate how far the stone will go,” he said. “A good pair of sweepers can extend the shot by 12 or 14 feet.”

On this Sunday night, men and women of different ages and abilities are on the ice. Friendly banter flies back and forth. No special gear is needed – curlers wear sneakers and comfortable pants. Yes, there are a few falls, but everyone is having good time. There is no referee. The teams decide the score at the end of each end.

“It’s a very gentlemanly sport. I don’t know what else to call it,” Engle said. Escott and Engle both said disagreements over scoring are rare.

“We just talk and figure it out,” Engle said.

The league is sponsored by the Spokane Parks and Recreation Department, where Adriano Eva is its liaison.

“I am just so excited about this,” said Eva, whose office overlooks the Ice Palace. “When they came and talked to me about it, I figured there had to be someone here who was interested in curling.”

When asked if any specific athletic ability is needed to participate, laughter broke out and everyone said no – except perhaps the ability to lift a beverage after the game.

It’s called broomstacking, a name that harkens back to when curlers would stack their brooms in the corner of a local establishment and share a beverage after a match.

“We still do that,” Engle said. “It’s great fun. It’s a very social sport.”