The rinks weren’t piped onto the ice like during a bonspiel or the Nokia Brier. And there were no wild parties afterwards reminiscent of the infamous “Brier Patch.”
Yet the cool chill of a curling rink—complete with freshly-pebbled sheets of ice—is unmistakable, be it on a national stage or the north side of Eighth Street here.
Another curling season began at the Fort Frances Curling Club last Wednesday with a slight increase in membership—and full round of activities planned.
“It’s always exciting to start a new season. We look forward to curling every year, of course,” said Raymond Roy, skip of the defending Monday men’s league and the club’s “grand aggregate” champs.
Roy and his team of Tim Nordin, Dave Broman, and Rob Gushulak also plan to gun for a coveted Brier berth again this season—a quest that ended last season at the Northwesterns in Kenora.
Don DeBenedet, who like Roy only got as far as the Northwest-erns last season with his rink of Snake Krawchuk, Clark Johnson, and Dave Bondett, said the chances of a first-ever Fort Frances team winning the Northern Ontario title—and adv-ancing to the Brier--are low.
“It’ll be tough. Very tough,” he admitted. “By sheer numbers, the other Northern Ontario cities [Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, and Sudbury] have more competition to stay sharp.”
Lorne Jackson’s rink—including Derek Jackson, Wayne Beacham, and Dave Hughes—also are a leading local contender to try their hand at going far.
But DeBenedet said while a run to the provincials would be nice, the focus is playing well at the league level.
“We’re all friends. Curling is what we use to bring the group together,” he noted.
On the women’s side, the big news this season is that Kathie Jackson and her rink won’t be vying for a berth to the Scott Tournament of Hearts.
Jackson, along with lead Stacy Beacham, second Kelly Wagar, and third Kim Beadry, has made it to the Ontario Scott Tournament of Hearts four years in a row—only to fall short of the national championship.
Her reason for passing on it this season is simple: family.
“I have two little girls,” said Jackson. “I just thought the time aspect of preparing for provincials was a lot. You have to put a lot of time into it.”
She said the move is temporary, but admitted she isn’t sure how long she’ll be on the sidelines. “Not a clue. Right now, I’m very happy with my choice.”
Jackson still will play a key role with the local club as chair of the curling committee and publisher of the newsletter. And she’ll still curl in the Friday mixed league with her husband, Lorne.
Meanwhile, club manager Rick Grenda said membership has been “right on par” compared to other years, noticing an increase in the Friday league, where organizers are close to filling the two draws of 12 teams each.
The men’s and ladies’ event switching months this season (the men in February and the ladies in March).
The annual MEC bonspiel, which regularly draws 48 rinks, is scheduled for January.
The Lil’ Rockers (aged five to 12) and juniors (12 and up) also are looking to grow this season. Close 70 curlers are a part of those programs.
“It’s basically a fun thing. You have to make it fun so that they stay in it,” said Grenda.
For Roy, a former coach of the junior program, it’s the enjoyment of playing against his former charges he enjoys most. Last week, he played the Adam Bolen rink—all of which were players Roy had instructed in his nine years as coach.
“[Generating youth interest is] very important,” stressed Roy. “There’s always room for new curlers.”
DeBenedet said the club has been doing a good job of not only getting children involved, but also drawing attention from older types.
“We’re competing with a number of other sports when it comes to attracting the younger ones,” he noted. “So we’re looking to entice some of the under-30 year olds in giving the sport a try.”
Fort Frances Mayor Glenn Witherspoon is proof one can curl after a long layoff. He’s dusted off his broom and entered in the Wednesday night men’s twilight league with Peter Wilkins, Dick Gustafson, and skip Ross Pearson.
“I’ve been retired for three years,” said Mayor Witherspoon after he and Wilkins helped muscle a rock towards the button.
“I’m still shaking the rust off.”