Curling craze: How the Olympic sport is taking off in Northeast Ohio

Mayfield Curling Club
Posted at 10:35 AM, Jan 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-31 10:35:36-05

WARRENSVILLE HEIGHTS, Ohio — The Winter Olympics are right around the corner and along with the major events like figure skating, hockey, skiing and snowboarding—curling will be front and center, drawing fans into the sport that feels like just about anyone can do it, and the inclusivity of the sport has made it a growing passion across the United States and even right here in Northeast Ohio at Mayfield Curling Club.

"I think a lot of people just are really mesmerized by the sweeping, the yelling. And a lot of times people really like the funny pants that the Norwegian men's curling team really like," said Ashley Lowry, director at Mayfield Curling Club. "But I think it's just something that they think that, if they're going to get into the Olympics, this is their chance. This is their way to become an Olympian."

Curling at a high level isn't as simple as going out and giving it the old college try, but it is a sport that people of all ages, body types and athletic ability can participate in.

The basics

For those who have never watched a curling match or maybe didn't pay much attention, there are three basic steps in curling:

1. Delivering stones or rocks- the process of sliding the 42-pound granite stone down the ice and onto the target.
2. Curling the stones- putting a rotation on the stone
3. Sweeping the stones- sweeping the ice in front of the moving stone with the broom to help control the curl and distance of the stone after it's thrown.

Each team, traditionally made up of four players each, has eight stones total, throwing two stones during each end (an end is like an inning in baseball) with the goal of getting more stones closer to the center of the target than the other team. Points are scored after each end based on the stones closest to the target and the team with the highest score at the end wins.

A 42-pound stone, or the squatting and bending curlers do, might make those with bad knees or backs, or those unable to lift a lot of weight, daunted by the thought. But Mayfield Curling Club says anyone can curl, with members in elementary school and others in their 80s.

"Anyone can do it. In addition to our regular delivery, we offer delivery sticks for individuals with different needs who aren't able to maybe get into that lunge position, that classic delivery position," Lowry said. "And so it's a sport for all ages, all body types. And it's a very inclusive sport."

The appeal

Inclusivity has a lot to do with the way curling is growing in popularity across the country. A popular sport in Canada, the interest of Americans has been growing, and Mayfield Curling Club attributes the surge in interest to several things.

One of the reasons is the fact that families can have a great time curling together because it's so inclusive.

"We have tons of families who curl. It's really great with if there's a family of four or five to see them go through our juniors program on Saturdays, train up to play in our leagues with our parents," Lowry said. "A lot of times what families are for playing bonspiel together—bonspiels are what we call our tournaments—and so it becomes a true family sport.

The sport has also been garnering interest since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when people were looking for new things to do in a safe environment.

"It's a way to control who you're seeing but still have a good time. We're indoors, as you can see, but we have high ceilings and there's a lot of air movement in here, so people feel safe. And we have COVID protocols that we're following — we keep our masks on, we clean things after we use them and I think that it just has attracted people," said Susan Frankel, president of Mayfield Curling Club. "I think it brought out some people that felt that they needed to get out and do something because they were stuck at home and not moving and not going anywhere."

Frankel said that they have 30 new members this year and are hoping to gain even more.

While the Olympic coverage, family-friendly nature and inclusivity all play a role in the growing popularity of the sport, Frankel said that people moving to the Northeast Ohio area from places where curling is already popular has also helped grow its presence in the area.

"We have a lot of people around that have just been imported from other places and curling is more popular in other places. And so Cleveland is just starting to pick up," Frankel said.

The Howell family has been curling together for years, bringing their passion for the sport with them to Northeast Ohio.

“My husband and I have been curling for 28 years," said Rachel Howell, member of Mayfield Curling Club. "We started curling before we had kids in Boston, Massachusetts, and so they were kind of born into it and they had an affinity to it."

Their son Tom and daughter Allison have gone on to compete in the Olympic trials earlier this year and travel internationally to compete. Tom Howell was in the first Winter Youth Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria back in 2012, while Allison Howell competed in the World Junior Championships and Women's National Championship in addition to being on Team USA.

”Alison, she was in high school when we moved here. So she was a member and we curled together on Tuesday nights in the ladies league," Rachel Howell said. "My husband and I have curled internationally, so we have friends from all over the world as well as our kids. So it's just it's like a fraternity, sorority. You just get to know people from all over the place in all walks of life. And that's the best part."

The opportunities

Mayfield Curling Club offers different curling opportunities at its facilities.

For those already accustomed to the sport, there are leagues seven days a week with many members traveling the country to other curling clubs to compete in bonspiels.

But for those new to the sport, the club has plenty of options to allow guests to get involved in curling. Hosting Learn to Curl events in February, March and April, Mayfield Curling Club has options for guests ranging from a few minutes on the ice to throw a few stones, to participating in a full two-hour experience to learn the basics of strategy and execution.

"We phrase it as a bucket list item that you get to cross off. You come for two hours, you learn the basics of sweeping delivery strategy, and by the end of it, you're playing a mini-game," Lowry said. "And then, if you just kind of want to come out, throw a few stones, maybe get that Instagram moment, we're having our open house where you can just get on the ice for 10 minutes and give it just a little bit of a try and everything."

Lowry encourages everyone to try curling because it's a sport that not only brings people toether but helps the long Ohio winters much more enjoyable.

"It's a great competitive game, but it's a great social game. The people are, I think, what really makes curling a great experience. And so it gets you out, moving, gets you out of the house, makes the winter go by fast, and great people," Lowry said. "I invite everyone in the Northeast Ohio area to come out and try curling."

Mayfield Curling Club is located at 23103 Miles Rd Suite D, Warrensville Heights.

To learn more about the upcoming open house events and Learn to Curl dates and tickets, click here.

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