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Curling clubs struggling to draw new curlers

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Curling is a sport that is relatively easy to learn and get into but clubs in the Rainy River District are struggling to get interested participants, especially the younger generation, through their doors and involved.

In Stratton, its curling club is all volunteer run and puts a huge emphasis on being community minded.

As is the case with many curling clubs throughout the region - they conceded that having more members would be great.

"We have revived our youth program but always love to see more kids out to enjoy the sport, said Stratton Recreation Society president Jackie McCormick.

“It would be great to see our members participate in Northern Ontario Curling Association competitions, such as U18, U21, and the Club Level Championships. It would also be great to have a bit more money to hire someone to help with some of our administrative tasks that are currently done by our volunteers.”

McCormick also noted that because the Stratton club is a completely volunteer run organization, it has trouble making plans for the next week—let alone next year.

“However, as a curler, I can speak to things that I would love to see happen next year,” she remarked.

"We will continue to offer the leagues we have and are more than willing to expand if we see an influx of members. We offered an intro to doubles curling at the beginning of this season and would like to follow up with that and perhaps provide a doubles night once per month or a few times per season next year.

“We have had to cancel our annual Easter bonspiel this season and of course want to have that up and running again next season,” she stressed.

McCormick noted that the Stratton club also would like to host a stick curling event, a youth competition or even just a 2-end funspiel on some Saturday nights.

“In the past we have also had Trucker and Logger's and Farmer's spiels that would be welcome additions to our curling schedule next year,” she said.

“However, big plans take many hands. I would love to see this all happen, but need people to make it work. I am a curler who absolutely wants to see curling thrive in Stratton, but I also add a full time job and two kids who play hockey, and hockey team management, to my plate and consequently something has to give, and at this time in my life that is curling planning and organization.”

As for fostering a love of curling in the younger generation, which will help with the longevity of the volunteer-run club, McCormick said that they have a great group of parents and kids, and volunteers without kids, who come out on Friday nights to try to get their youth program strong again.

“As a club, we support them in all ways possible,” she stressed.

“Hopefully these kids and parents share their positive experiences with others who may want to join next season. We have had some very successful curlers come out of our club and we hope that our local youth can see that even from a small town curling club, you can go far with this sport,” she added.

McCormick feels that spreading that message is an important aspect of attracting youth. But more important than that, though, is showing the youth how enjoyable the entire curling experience can be.

“Curling is more that what happens on the ice. Curling is a social sport. It is a great way to spend time with family and friends,” McCormick reasoned.

"Having our curling club be a fun, safe, welcoming place for youth is extremely important to us. We try to encourage kid and family participation in our annual Boxing Day Bonspiel and our Easter Bonspiel. We have special pricing for youth teams and prize draws for teams made up of families.

“We remind teams when they sign up in the fall that youth are welcome to play in our adult leagues with their parents,” she continued.

“My kids started playing in adult leagues when they were nine years old and I started playing with my mom and dad in those leagues around the same age. Playing with adults provides a great learning opportunity for kids and the Stratton Curling Club is proud to be able to give parents and kids this opportunity to play together. We grew up enjoying curling as a family, playing many bonspiels and league games with our parents and wish that for the families in our community now.”

In Rainy River, meanwhile, its curling club is struggling to get younger adult curlers in the town interested in the sport.

The club also is still trying to recover from being broken into and robbed earlier this winter as well as the building needing multiple improvements.

It has all made for some compounding issues for club president Melissa Jenson and the rest of the board to try to work through.

“Our junior curling program did really well last year but not so much this year because started so late, we've had trouble with our gas,” said Jenson.

"We had a leaky gas line, so we started [the season] late so our junior curlers numbers were down this year. But last year we had 25 or 26 curlers, which was big for our program.

“We're trying to get more adults out and a lot of people are afraid to come out because they've never curled before,” she explained.

“Maybe [we'll try to] have some more fun nights. Like this year we implemented a drop-in curling [program] on Saturday nights. So we wanted to keep doing stuff like that to get people out to see what it's about, kind of no commitment and no judgements, right? Like they want to come out and try it without experienced curlers.”

Jenson said that the Rainy River Curling Club would like to see its number of members increase moving forward as it only housed six league teams this past season.

“Years ago there used to be like six different leagues and now we only have one mixed open league, so six teams” she noted.

“But they're all junior curlers. A lot of members [at the club] that we've had in the past, they're not curling anymore. It's a sport that, years ago, it used to be all older members and so it's really hard to get that younger crowd out. So we're trying to do more drop-in stuff and more bonspiels.”

While most of the Rainy River High School Owls' curlers are from Stratton, or curl out of the Stratton Curling Club, Jenson said that the Rainy River rink has had some school classes drop-in and make good use of the club.

“For years the schools would come visit the club for whatever reason, so for the last few years they have been coming back which is fantastic because it's nice to have those gym classes and the teachers introducing curling as well,” she enthused.

While seeing the youth enjoy the club is great, Jenson noted the Rainy River club is doing its best to draw in younger adults moving forward.

“We're struggling like every other club in the district,” she conceded.

"Like I'm 37 and our curling team is probably the youngest curling team in the league. I love curling, I curled all my life. I did the junior curling program, then I curled in high school curling and then after I moved back here, I curled in the league again. I find it very odd how some people in their 20s. . .in Rainy there's not a lot to do, this is just something for people to do but I don't know why people are leery with trying it [curling].

“Yeah, our big thing is trying to get the younger crowd out to come to the curling club,” Jenson stressed.

“We were broken into last month and we didn't do a fundraiser or anything like that, so one thing we are just gonna say is to come support the club if you want to help out our club. We're struggling. People just don't leave their houses like they used to, especially now.”

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