Thrills & Spills

Thrills & Spills
Boys’ Life, December 2008

Life Scout Matt Reed figured his curling team had aced this competition. After all his last stone slid perfectly into the center of the target — a bulls-eye. Then Mike Paradis, Matt’s best friend and rival since the first grade, took his turn. Mike throws his first stone and takes out a guard stone. Bummer. “The second one hits mine dead center and knocks all our stones out of the house,” says Matt, 16. “I couldn’t believe it. His team wins on the last shot!”

Who would have thought curling could be so exciting? Not the scouts of Troop 007 in Lewiston, Maine, until they spent a day last February learning the sport. “I watched curling on television during the Olympics and thought it was boring, but to actually play was fun,” says 12-year-old Tenderfoot Patrick Cowan.

Curling is an old sport, a lot older than football or basketball. It began in 16th century Scotland outdoors on frozen marshes. Scottish immigrants brought curling to North America. Now it’s part of the Olympic Winter Games and played worldwide. Curling is most popular in Canada where it is one of the top rated television sports and winning teams are treated like Super Bowl champions.

Stone cold

Under the watchful eye of Eagle Scout Rob Dietz and other members of Maine’s Belfast Curling Club, the 15 Scouts learned basic rules and curling techniques. The biggest surprise? Only a tiny portion of the rock – a thin circular edge – actually touches the ice, says First Class Scout Jake Dumas. “Anything, even a piece of lint or trash could throw it off course.”

Next it was onto the ice for some practice. Usually curlers wear one shoe with a teflon plate on the bottom to make it easier to slide. “Instead we taped a piece of duct tape to the bottom of our sneakers,” says Dylan Morin. The tape worked well, almost too well. “We slid, slipped and fell down, but it was wicked fun,” he laughs.

The Scouts quickly discovered anyone can push a stone down a sheet of slippery ice. Making it go where you want? That’s a lot harder. Curlers don’t throw the stone. It weighs 42 pounds!

Instead you crouched down placing one leg in a rubber foothold. One hand grips the rock handle and the other holds the broom for balance. You push off on an outstretched leg as you slide down the ice and release the stone.

It was awkward for almost everyone. But not Tristan Bussiere, 12. “The push off wasn’t as hard for me because I’m used to starter blocks from track and field events,” he says. Tristan, who is blind, also proved you don’t need to see to curl. Tristan, part of the winning team, had his buddies simply point him towards the target and let it rip. Awesome!

Sweeping up

A flick of the wrist makes the stone curve one direction or the other. Once a curler releases a stone the two sweepers take over. They brush the ice in front of the stone, but can’t touch it. Sweeping creates friction which slightly melts the ice. That makes the stone curl less and slide farther.

“You have to sweep really fast, a lot faster than I imagined. I was better at sweeping than throwing,” admits Dylan. Jake Dumas, 14, says he too became good at using the broom once he got into the rhythm of sliding and sweeping at the same time.

By afternoon, the Scouts were eager for some real action. Teams of four competed in one round with the best going head-to-head in the finals. Dylan and Patrick managed to get a few stones into the house and knocked a few of their opponent’s out, which both say made them “feel gooood.”

Mind games

They also learned about strategy and teamwork. “When you watch curling you think it’s just about getting the rock down to the end of the ice, but really you have to place the rocks in the right place,” says Matt’s 14-year-old brother, Jake.

Matt’s team learned that lesson in the finals. Like chess, curling is all about anticipating your opponent, then making counter moves. To succeed, the entire team must work together with skill and finesse.

“After the first two ends we were up a few points. So for the last end we tried to set our stones in a defensive pattern,” explains Matt, who acted as skip. “But Mike’s last shot changed everything. For now he’s got bragging rights. But wait until next year.”

A day of curling has Troop 007 rock jocks anxious for a rematch, maybe even against another troop. “I got to hang out with my friends. We worked and thought as a team and we laughed every time we fell down,” says Dylan. “I can’t wait to go back. It was a blast.”

CURLING 101

The rules of curling are simple. Each team has four players – a lead, a second, a third and a skip (he calls the team’s shots). All four players on each team shoot two rocks, alternating with the other team. The skip throws the last two rocks.

Sixteen rocks thrown equal an end. A game is made up of 10 ends, like innings.

Only one team can score per end. One point is scored for each rock closest to the center of the house than the opponent’s. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins.

CURLING TERMS

Bonspiels: Curling tournaments

Broom: Used to sweep the ice

Curl: A turn of the rock’s handle upon release makes it curl or curve, as it travels down the ice

End: One end is complete when all 16 rocks (eight per team) have been thrown to one end of the sheet. A game is usually eight ends or about two hours long

Hack: Rubber foothold like a starting block from which curlers deliver the rock

Hammer: The last rock of each end

House: The round scoring area which looks like a bull’s eye.

Rocks: Also called stones, are made of a rare granite from Scotland. Each has a handle attached and weighs 42 pounds.

Skip: The team captain or strategist. Skips throw the last two rocks of each end

Slider: A piece of plastic or teflon worn on the bottom of the sliding foot

Sweeping: Players sweep to make the rock travel farther or to keep it from curling too much

Takeout: A rock that removes another rock from play

Tee: Center of the house