Crazy about curling; Local club hopes interest will heat up.
PETERSHAM - Thanks to cable TV and the Internet, the Olympic sport that involves rocks, brooms and a rectangle of ice is not quite as obscure in the United States as it once was.
"If we had more TV coverage, there would probably be more curling clubs," says Ted Paul, a 33-year member of the Petersham Curling Club.
This year's Winter Olympics is the fourth to include competitive curling, a sport that began hundreds of years ago in Scotland.
Mr. Paul is an avid player and observer of the sport, the kind who stays up till 1:30 in the morning to watch the end of an Olympic curling match that doesn't even involve the U.S. team. The kind who takes every chance to check scores, even while at work fixing heating and air conditioning systems at other people's homes.
Mr. Paul, 56, finds curling pretty exciting. "Some people think it's like watching paint dry," he concedes.
Not those who showed up at the Petersham Curling Club's open house to try the game yesterday. More than 150 people arrived within the first two hours of the event, which took place as the world's best curlers competed in Vancouver.
A group of University of Massachusetts at Amherst students who tried curling for the first time were impressed.
"It was awesome," said Colin Willey of Arlington, who has played sports before, but nothing like this.
"It's something else," said Jimmy Stavlo of Falmouth. "Better than bowling."
Members of the Petersham Curling Club, which marks its 50th anniversary this year, were more than happy to demonstrate for newcomers.
"Put your butt up in the air," Peter T. Roskey told a blushing preteen boy, as the boy prepared to glide forward and release 42 pounds of solid granite.
Mr. Roskey, who has been curling for 12 years, got down on the ice and showed how it's done. Right leg straight behind, left leg bent in front, left hand firm on the broom (for support), right hand on the rock. Push off, slide and release the rock. Curlers wear a Teflon-soled shoe on one foot, which makes for smooth sliding.
If this were a real game, the skip, or captain of the team would be on the other end of the ice, shouting instructions to two sweepers. Instructions like "Sweeeep! Harder, harder!" Or, if the rock is moving just fine without any help, "Up! Up!"
Curling can get loud.
Those brooms, by the way, are not Swiffers. They are made especially for curling and run up to $200.
The stones can move surprisingly fast. The game isn't always fast-paced, but between walking and sweeping, curlers complete about two miles per game.
A curling match consists of 10 periods, called ends, in which both teams take turns launching polished granite stones across more than 140 feet of ice to a large circular target, called the house. Teams win points for stones that are closer to the center of the target than the opponent's stones are.
Sweeping warms and smoothes the ice, helping the stones travel farther. Good sweepers extend the stone's journey by 10 to 15 feet.
Curlers say the game is like a combination of chess, billiards and boccie. It is intense. It is strategic.
"I like that it's a lot harder than it looks," said Ronald S. Meck of Shutesbury, who got hooked on curling four years ago, and who organized yesterday's open house.
Mr. Roskey, who was instructing people on the ice, started 12 years ago, when his daughter, 13 at the time, brought home a flyer about the curling club. She doesn't curl anymore, he does. He has competed with top curlers at tournaments, called bonspiels, in Canada, where curling is wildly popular.
Don't be deceived by his penguin hat. "I'm very competitive," said Mr. Roskey, of Agawam.
But what he loves about curling is as much off the ice as on. Curling is a polite game. Opponents don't talk trash, they shake hands. After a match, there's food and drinks - of the alcoholic variety. The winners buy drinks for the losers, so technically, there are no losers.
At the Petersham club, there is a full bar right next to the ice.
"It really is a giant family atmosphere," Mr. Roskey said. "Where else can you spend two and a half hours being competitive and at the end everybody's happy?"
While curlers say awareness of their sport has grown over the years, the Petersham club has far fewer members than it used to a couple of decades ago. The members share the cost of running the club. About 50 people, most in their 40s and 50s, are members today.
"We would like to be at 80 or 90 (members)," said Mr. Paul, one of the club's early members.
His parents were curlers and his children are curlers. His son and daughter have competed at the national level. He's hoping his 3-year-old granddaughter will start next year.
The popularity of curling in this country is nowhere near Canadian levels. In Canada, people actually make money curling. Here, even the best curlers have to keep regular jobs, Mr. Paul said.
The pool of elite American curlers is small. Mr. Paul has met two members of the Olympic men's team. Mr. Roskey knows all of them.
But, Mr. Paul says, you don't have to be good to play the game. "Anybody can do it," he said. "You can start early, and we have people curling well into their 80s. And if you're not good, who cares? The people in curling are very nice."
More information on the Petersham Curling Club and upcoming events is at www.petershamcurling.org.
CUTLINE: (1) Club member Aliza Breault, left, demonstrates how to release a stone during an open house Sunday at the Petersham Curling Club. Watch an online video at www.telegram.com. (2) Above, from left, Tom Ryder from Millbury, John Kulig from Millbury and Tom Ducharme from Holden laugh at another friend's first awkward attempt at delivering a stone. (3) At left, brooms hang on the wall at the club. (4) Club members Faith Griffiths, kneeling left, and Loree Hany introduce sweeping the ice during the open house.
PHOTOG: T&G Staff Photos/RICK CINCLAIR