Curling sweeps back into action this fall

Megan Walchuk

Dust off your brooms, Fort Frances – curling is coming back.

The Fort Frances Curling Club has tweaked its rules and processes to comply with COVID-19 regulations, enabling it to move ahead with a season, starting the week of Thanksgiving.

“We’re really excited,” said Christine Denby, curling committee chair.

When COVID hit in spring, the curling club was just two weeks from the end of its season. Since then, organizers have been meeting and planning a way to reopen the doors.

“We had meetings in back yards to start, socially distanced. Then meetings at the club, while we waited for Curling Canada to give us guidance and for what the Health Unit would say about what we could and couldn’t do. We’re doing our absolute best to keep things as normal as we can in our new normal,” said Denby.

Although organizers are aware some members will choose to sit out this season, they’re hoping to welcome a new crowd.

“What we’re hoping is we may get some curlers back who other years may have gone south. While we may lose some curlers because they may feel they’re vulnerable or have health concerns, we’ll get others who will won’t be going south,” said Denby. “They’ll be staying home and looking for something to do.”

The plan looks like it’s working – even before registration day, the daytime league already has 12 teams signed up for Monday, and another 14 for Wednesday, which is about the normal number.

“That’s a really good sign,” said Denby.

But new faces won’t be the only change this year. To accommodate COVID regulations, the game itself has been tweaked. Only 50 people will be allowed on the ice surface at any time, hand shaking won’t be allowed, and players will no longer be allowed the polite gesture of pulling opponent rocks out to the hack. The largest change is only allowing one sweeper per turn. The same sweeper follows the rock from hack to house – even the skip isn’t allowed to jump in.

“They’re usually pretty close while sweeping. What [Curling Canada] wants to do is maintain as much physical distancing as they can while people are playing,” said Denby.

Social distancing will continue off the ice. When not playing or eating, players and spectators will be required to wear a mask, and the lockers are off limits. Players will bring their equipment and coats up to the restaurant. Using the lockers would add too much to the already heavy cleaning protocol.

“We’re all learning. We’re all figuring this out as we go. I now it will feel for a lot of people that it’s complicated, but I think we’ll all fall into a nice rhythm. It will become a new routine,” said Denby. “We’re thinking that by October, people will be used to wearing masks . They’ll come in and have it on. They’ll get to know when to take it on and off. There are so many things to consider, but we’ve been working hard, we’ve been meeting lots – more than normal. A lot of volunteers have put a lot of thought into everything.”

The nature of curling puts the sport at a unique advantage over other sports, noted Denby.

“We’re lucky in some ways, because our sport lends itself to distancing. We’re not like hockey, where you’re in each other’s face, and we’ve even further reduced the amount you’re in each other’s face,” she said. Multiple small teams also gives the club flexibility, if restrictions tighten again through the winter. They are able to stagger schedules, or use fewer rinks.

“There’s lot of ways we could make it work,” said Denby. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. That’s all you can do as an organization, is just work with what you’ve got.”

Registration will also look different. Instead of a one-day event, followed by the AGM, it will take place over four days in early September. Teams can be three or four players this year, because only three people will be in play at any time, due to the new sweeping rules. The youth league will be limited to Bantam and Junior. Little Rocks will be on hold, but may be added in January, depending on how the season plays out, said Denby.

Registration begins with the Ladies’ League, Monday, September 8. it will be followed by the Men’s on Tuesday, the Day League on Thursday and the youth league on Monday, September 14. The AGM has been moved to September 16. The season is set to begin October 12.

For more details about registration, visit the Fort Frances Curing Club on Facebook.