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Curling for a cause in Schenectady

Curling, a centuries-old winter sport, has a long history in upstate New York. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard tried his hand Tuesday during a charity curling event.

The Schenectady Curling Club was busy with many who have never played the game before, though club president Jim Meinhold says the sport goes back decades in the Electric City.

“The Club has actually been in several sites in Schenectady. It’s always been in Schenectady. I think it moved back here, actually, in the 1950s, as I recall, but the club was founded in 1906, so over a hundred years old,” said Meinhold.

You’ve probably seen curling on the winter Olympics. The game is played on ice – textured, not smooth – where teams guide a polished granite stone toward the “house” – or what looks like a bullseye painted under the ice on the other side of the field.

On this day, the Schenectady Curling Club is hosting a charity event for the United Way, and teams of four assemble for instruction and a few games.

“Everybody who’s never tried this before is nervous about getting on and sliding on the ice. One of the remarkable things about the game, especially learning the game, is after you just do three, four, five shots you get a sense of your balance. You almost forget about the sliding part and you’re concentrating on probably five other things you’re supposed to be doing. So you get over that intimidation, fear factor really quickly,” said Meinhold.

The first step, of course, is to step on the ice.

“Very carefully, you’re first time…step on this. Put a little weight on it, get a feel for it…”

Today, we’re wearing rubber grippers on our sneakers, with one shoe placed on a Teflon-coated pad. With one hand on a plastic stabilizer, the other on the handle of the curling stone – we practice getting into the crouched position. Which is a bit of a stretch for me.

“So you’re going to want your left foot right under your chest. And then you want to get as low and as stretched-out as you can.”

“Oh! That’s about as low as I can go.”

After getting into the throwing position, we take turns gliding on one foot off of a rubber stopper, with the stone in front before it’s released toward the house.

“One, hips up, two, back, you wanna put some weight on it, and then you push out…”

After a little practice, we begin throwing the stones across the field, and then begin adding the curl – a rotation from a movement of the wrist. During a regular match, another teammate called the skip guides the stone towards the house from across the ice.

With a shot lined up, the 40-pound stone is sent out. Enter the sweepers.

“Sweep! Sweep!”

Two teammates with brooms rush to keep ahead of the stone, brushing the surface. The furious sweeping reduces friction.

“So two good sweepers can make a stone go 6 to 8 foot farther than it would if it wasn’t being swept.”

“Bite! Bite!”

With two teams on the field, one-by-one, 16 rocks are thrown across the ice. There’s strategy involved in getting a stone the closest to the center of the bullseye, blocking the goal from the other team, or knocking another rock out of the way.

“Nice shot!”

By our third match, we’re starting to get the hang of it. With all the rules and movements to learn, a game that started out a little intimidating, in just over an hour, starts to become natural.

It was Casey Radomsky’s first time.

“I feel like I started with just, like, trying to do the basic movements and then you kinda picked up on some of the strategy more as you went with it,” said Radomsky.

Venessa Brabant has done this before but hasn’t curled in over two years, due to the pandemic. She likes the way the charity event introduces new players to the sport.

“The team players can kind of switch into different roles where everybody got to be lead once, which is the first thrower, or they got to be skip, which is the last thrower who is calling all the shots. In a normal game, you’re just in one position the entire time,” said Brabant.

The fundraiser at the Schenectady Curling Club is the second of its kind for the United Way. The first was held in 2019.

United Way of the Greater Capital Region President Peter Gannon is happy to see the event return.

“What’s cool about this sport is you can get to a basic level of proficiency pretty quickly, so that you can have fun competing in it and the coaching and volunteers here at the Schenectady Curling Club are awesome in taking care of us in that sense. They get everybody up to speed so they feel relatively confident early on and they have fun competing the rest of the day,” said Gannon.

As a way to get groups together, encourage communication and teamwork, and support a charitable cause, Gannon called curling a “perfect storm” for United Way.

“Curling is something that I think people see on the TV every couple years and they’re like, ‘Man, that looks awesome!’ And to tap into this dedicated curling culture in the Capital Region for us, while raining some money at the same time – that’s like a win-win. So we get to provide people with an awesome experience plus they’re contributing to resources to help us advance the mission of the United Way,” said Gannon.

For more information visit: https://schenectadycurlingclub.us/https://schenectadycurlingclub.us/

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.