- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2000

The members of the Potomac Curling Club are used to making do with what is available.
For the past 39 years, the group has curled in a conventional ice-skating rink, where the warm, rough ice renders their shots unpredictable. It's hardly the ideal setting for a delicate sport many describe as "chess on ice."
That will change next fall when the club moves into its new home, the National Capital Curling Center.
The group, about 80 members strong, has rallied to fund the Laurel center, for which the group broke ground Oct. 14.
The curling-only rink will offer unlimited curling access, allowing for league play and round-the-clock curling. The planned center will sit on a small parcel in Fairland Regional Park next to the existing Gardens Ice House.
Curling, roughly akin to shuffleboard on ice with a dollop of bocce, inspires a passionate blend of players of all skill levels.
Susan Curtis says the facility will strengthen the already potent bond among members of her curling fellowship, who range in age from 17 to 80.
"It's a very cohesive group, through thick and thin, good ice and bad," Mrs. Curtis says.
The new center also will lure local purists back into the fold, she promises.
"This," she says, gesturing to the Cabin John Ice Rink in Bethesda, Md., where the group has played since 1967, "doesn't satisfy their needs."
Curling at a hockey-style rink is "like playing golf in a forest," member Stephen Provasnik says. "Curling is a game of finesse, and you simply can't control what happens to the curling stone" on a standard rink surface.
Such ice isn't cold, slick or level enough to satisfy dedicated curlers, and the occasional ridges left by Zamboni machines cause havoc with play.
To fund the new rink, club members bought zero-interest building-fund bonds totaling more than $160,000 and pledged an additional $15,000.
They were not alone in their fund-raising efforts, however. Curling enthusiasts nationwide chipped in $83,500 toward the cause, and the Maryland General Assembly provided a $250,000 matching grant.
It seems appropriate for the group finally to have a rink to call its own.
About 135 curling clubs exist in the United States, and many have their own specialized rinks.
The sport, which can be traced back to 16th-century Scotland, enjoys little recognition in warmer climes in the United States and has only marginal visibility in most other states.
The sport gained a higher profile when it became a medal sport in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
Club president Bob Pelletier grew up in Canada, where virtually every town supported a curling club.
Mrs. Curtis' husband, Mark, hails from Wisconsin, where he played the sport as a boy. He eventually talked her into picking it up herself.
"It was an unwritten pact of our marriage. We share all sports," she says.
You won't hear Mrs. Curtis complain, nor will many fellow club members gripe, despite the occasional spill on the ice.
They treat their club as if it were more than an athletic endeavor. The group throws parties along with tournaments, or bon spiels, for its members.
A curler begins by pushing off from a "hack," or starting block, and sliding forward with a 42-pound stone in his grasp. He then launches the stone down the ice, with the curler crouching like Al Jolson on bended knee, reaching for that last note.
The sport's moniker derives from a stone's tendency to curve, or "curl," as it shuttles down the ice.
As the stone hurtles toward the target, two sweepers accompany it, vigorously brushing the ice in its path if needed. Buffing the ice allows the stone to travel faster. Points are tallied by the stone or stones that are closer to the center, or tee, than the opponents' stones.
Curling is played between two teams of four players.
The uninitiated do not know the exercise they are missing when it comes to curling, Mr. Pelletier says, alluding to the sweepers' intense efforts and the walking involved in each match.
"They don't realize it's a game of physical fitness and finesse," he says. "It's physically rewarding. It's a good cardiovascular workout."
Strategies emerge as the games unfold. Curlers can place stones in such a way as to block their opponents' stones, or they can set themselves up for their final, tactical shot.
Curlers gather each Monday night at the Bethesda rink like members of a secret club.
Before a recent scrimmage, the participants stretched, leaning on their broomlike sweepers like hockey legend Wayne Gretzky preparing for his next shift.
Member Sarah Elkins of Rockville describes the local curling scene as having "a small, devoted core" of followers.
Ms. Elkins relishes the strategy involved. "It's interesting to try and predict … you have to watch what's going on," she says. "This ice is not the best; it's always changing."
But she also responds to the good will generated on the ice.
"There's a high emphasis on good sportsmanship, shaking hands before and after" a match, she says. Don't expect any hockey-style fisticuffs at center ice. Centuries-old tradition dictates otherwise.
Alexander Duncan, 17, discovered the sport at a local Scottish games fair.
"I fell in love with it," he says. "It's a really unique sport. It's a lot of fun even if you don't plan on playing it a long time."
Jay Davies of Bethesda says the new facility will open up the group to younger members who might not be able to stay up late enough for the Monday evening sessions.
"A big way to promote [the sport] is to get youth involved," he says.
What could be better than a sport that appeals so seamlessly across the ages?
"Teen-agers … play it because of the physical part of it," says Mr. Davies, who grew up in North Dakota. "But young men play old guys and get beat."
For information, visit the group's Web site at www.curldc.org.

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