Rocking at the curling club

By Anthony Dixon, The Daily Observer

Pembrokemay be Hockeytown Canada but don't forget there are other sports played on the ice during the winter.

Sunday afternoons at the Pembroke Curling Club, children and youth pick up their brooms, step out onto the pebbled ice and throw some rocks hoping to put one right on the button.

Things are looking good for the Pembroke Junior Curling Club.

"Our attendance this year is up. It's almost doubled what it was last year," said Debbie Knechtel, coordinator of the junior curlers. "I think the Olympics has prompted a lot of interest in curling in children and our greatest attendance increase is among the older kids. We had a 16-year-old come out this year for the first time."

The club offers participants three divisions.

The youngest, for children aged five to 10, is called Little Rocks. The 11 to 16 age group is bantam and 16 to 19 are juniors. All three groups curl one after another Sunday afternoons at the Pembroke rink. The youngest group begins at 1 p. m., the middle group at 2:30 p. m. and the oldest at 4:30 p. m.

Ms. Knechtel said each group starts its session with an instructional period.

The children in the Little Rocks program use lighter stones of approximately 28 pounds while the Bantam and Junior curlers use regulation rocks of about 40 pounds.

The Little Rocks players spend their time learning the basics of the sports -the rules, how to throw a stone, how to slide on the ice, and sportsmanship. After a snack, they return to the ice for a short game to practice what they have learned.

The older students follow a similar pattern, with more experienced students receiving instruction to help refine their techniques while new students receive basic instruction. Following a hot chocolate break, participants are mixed into teams for games.

Ms. Knechtel said a group of about 14 volunteer coaches along with parents and grandparents provide the instruction for the children.

This year, Steve O'Donnel, a level-three curling coach, has been able to lend his wisdom to the older students.

"This is the first year that we have had a certified coach. He's trying to bring their skills up and help them become more competitive," Ms. Knechtel said, adding that there is a group of about 10- 12 Bantams that would like to curl at a more competitive level.

Overall, the junior curling program is about introducing the sport to children and making it fun so they will stick with it throughout their lives.

On Feb. 7, the club will host its annual Pembroke Junior Bonspiel.

"It's a recreational bonspiel where we have fun and just get the kids out playing," Ms. Knechtel said.

The event will feature 16, four-person teams from across Ontario competing at both the Little Rocks and Bantam levels.

The action gets underway at 8 a. m. and wraps up around 5:30 p. m.

There will be no overall winner. Each game is a separate entity.

Ms. Knechtel said it is a "cash off the wall" bonspiel meaning after each game, both the winning and losing teams can pick an envelop with a small cash prize from the wall.

"Doing it this way, nobody is put out and there's no one at the top of the barrel and nobody at the bottom," she said.

Bantam skip Brandon Lyon has been curling for four years.

"Curling is a gentleman's game. You meet lots of new people and you have to talk things out as you decide what action you're going to take," he said.

A family member got Eric Fortin interested in the sport.

"My grandpa curls in Eganville and he asked us if we wanted to play and we went out," he said.

His favorite part of the game is curling the rocks down the ice.

"I like throwing the rocks. It gets the anger out," he laughed.

While the junior curling pro- gram is enjoying a bit of resurgence this winter, Ms. Knechtel would like to see the program continue to grow.

"It had been on a bit of decline but now it's on the rise so it's a good time to get the word out. Many people aren't even aware that the program is here. Not every kid wants to play hockey. Curling is a fun sport, it teaches great sportsmanship, and strategy and people skills as you have to talk with the other players and it's very physical.

"If you've done any sweeping out there you know it is," she said.

The junior curling season begins as soon as the ice goes in around October and continues until the ice comes out in March or April.

While the season has been underway for months, she said the club is still interested in new students that would like to give curling a try.

Children that sign up now will receive a reduced rate because the season has only a couple of months left.

For more information please call Ms. Knechtel at 613-582-7371.