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2014-02-05 / Sports

Romancing the stone

Midlothian-based curling club taps into sport’s rising popularity
By Jim McConnell
STAFF WRITER


The Midlothian-based Curling Club of Virginia put on a public demonstration Sunday at RVA on Ice in downtown Richmond. 
James Haskins/Chesterfield Observer The Midlothian-based Curling Club of Virginia put on a public demonstration Sunday at RVA on Ice in downtown Richmond. James Haskins/Chesterfield Observer Do you know what a “hog line” is? How about a “burned rock,” “hack” or “gripper”?

No? Well, you’re not alone.

But for anyone planning to watch televised coverage of the Winter Olympics from Sochi, Russia, it couldn’t hurt to understand some of the terminology from a sport known as curling.

Founded in Scotland in the early 16th century, curling is an Olympic sport played most commonly in Canada, but with a history in America that dates back more than 200 years.

The United States now is one of the top five curling countries in the world, with close to 16,000 participants and 165 clubs in 40 states.

One of those clubs, the Midlothian-based Curling Club of Virginia, held an open house last week at Richmond Ice Zone to increase awareness about the sport.

Virginia’s lone curling club, which now has 22 members, has grown steadily in the three years since it became officially sanctioned by USA Curling.

According to club member Kirsten Collins, curling has experienced a boom in the United States since it received unprecedented television coverage during the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

“People were making fun of the sport, but at the same time, they wanted to know more about it,” she said.

One of the Curling Club of Virginia’s founding members, Sandy Sanderson, had never curled before he joined forces with several others to start the club in 2010.

“I just thought it was something Virginia needed, and it would be fun,” Sanderson said.

To play the sport of curling, you need two four-player teams, several 42-pound oblate stones, brooms and a sheet of ice at least 150 feet long.

Players from each team alternate sliding stones across the ice toward a circular bull’seye looking target area, known as the house. Teammates wearing “grippers,” or nonslip shoes, furiously sweep the ice in front of the stone to create friction and guide the stone as close as possible to the intended target area.

After each team throws eight stones, the team whose stone is closest to the center of the house is awarded a point.

Games traditionally consist of eight rounds, called “ends,” and take approximately two hours to complete.

When Olympic-caliber curlers are involved, ends are usually decided by a matter of inches.

Club member Jonah Yearick, who started curling four years ago in Raleigh, N.C., before moving to Richmond, said there’s a strategic element in the placement of the stones that makes the sport far more similar to chess than shuffleboard.

“A lot of people who come for the first time leave saying that it’s a lot harder than they thought it would be,” Yearick said.

Curling games, more commonly known as “bonspiels,” are competitive but also friendly events. Participants commonly trade pins at the conclusion of a bonspiel; Collins has an impressive collection of pins from events in the United States, Canada and even Russia.

“It’s a sport that spans all ages and abilities,” club president Scott Walters said. “We play to win when we’re on the ice, but afterward, both teams sit together and socialize.”

Yearick and other club members play every Wednesday for 24 weeks in a league at a Laurel, Md., facility specifically designed for curling.

Because the optimal ice temperature for curling is different than for figure skating or hockey, Collins said that the Curling Club of Virginia hopes to one day have enough funding to build its own dedicated facility.

For now, club members are extremely thankful to get ice time at Richmond Ice Zone, located in Midlothian, where they prepare for a variety of out-of-town competitions.

“We hope to have an Olympian one day,” Sanderson said with a smile.

Collins quickly corrected him.

“We’re going to have one,” she said.

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