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January 26. 2013 10:54PM

Fans say there's something cool about curling


Rob VanSchooneveld throws a stone during the 2013 Grand National Curling Club's senior men's championship on Friday at the Nashua Country Club. (Kimberly Houghton/Union Leader Correspondent)

NASHUA -- Tucked away in the back of the Nashua Country Club is a hidden ice gem where people of all ages and abilities share their passion for a game that receives little exposure between Olympics.

It is the ancient game of curling - believed to have started in medieval Scotland - and Nashua is the only community in the state that has its own designated curling rink, where people from across New England flock to get their curling fix.

And yes, those who love the sport say it is an addiction, often comparing the winter game of strategy to a forbidden love or a fine wine.

"I was hooked the first time I tried it," said Frank Pickett of Nashua, chairman of the Grand National Curling Club's senior men's championship event held this weekend at the Nashua Country Club. "At this level, it is very competitive. Yes, it is fun, but we are really doing it to win."

While these men make the game seem effortless, it takes a lot of skill and practice to make that 44-pound stone glide to the bull's-eye at the other end of the sheet.

Patience, balance and precision are a few of the skills needed to be successful on the ice, along with some unique shoes, a strange looking broom and, of course, luck.

"It is almost like chess on ice," explained Pickett.

For an amateur who has never watched the game of curling - except for maybe a few glances on television during the Winter Olympics - the curling concept, including its long list of rules, can be daunting.

Two teams of four players each take turns sliding heavy granite stones, or "rocks,'' toward the "house," a circular target on the ice.

Each team has eight stones. The goal is to accumulate the most points, which are given for stones resting closest to the center of the house at the conclusion of each "end," completed when both teams have thrown all their stones. A game may consist of eight or 10 ends.

A curler can induce a curved path by causing the stone to slowly turn as it slides. The path of the rock may be further influenced by two "sweepers" with specials brooms who accompany the stone as it slides down the ice. They use the brooms to alter the state of the ice in front of the stone. A great deal of strategy and teamwork goes into choosing the ideal path of a stone for each situation, and the skills of the curlers determine how close to the desired result the stone will achieve.

The senior men competing in Nashua, who are the best of the best in their age division, are excited and welcoming to newcomers, eager to share their knowledge and expertise.

Many of their wives, children and grandchildren also participate in curling competitions, making the Scottish game a family sport.

Charlie Rebick of Plainfield, N.J., may be the rookie of the group, having only curled for about five years. The former research chemist said he had plenty of time on his hands after retiring, and curling seemed to be a good fit.

But it didn't come naturally, according to Rebick, 68.

"It is hard. I felt quite incompetent the first time out on the ice, and I still do sometimes," he said. "It is a tremendous game of thinking. But most importantly, it is a game of fellowship and tradition."

For Frank Balas, 73, of Cape Cod, Mass., curling replaced his love of skiing when his body wasn't as appreciative of his time on the slopes.

"I threw a couple of rocks, and I sort of found a home. It was an instant love," said Balas, a retired attorney. "I will curl until I can't do it anymore."

Curling also helps pass the time during the long days of winter, according to Bill Langley of Stamford, Conn., who has been curling for about a decade.

Langley's neighbor encouraged him to hit the ice, and after several pleas, he finally agreed to give it a shot.

"I wasn't really sure about it the first time out because, admittedly, I couldn't do it very well," said Langley, 74.

And while there is no official record of who has been curling the longest in Nashua, most people joke that Davis "Skip" Bryant, 85, was born with a curling stone in his hand. He began perfecting the sport about 55 years ago and has his own plaque mounted on the wall at the country club.

The most challenging part of the game, he said, "is getting the stone to do what 'The Skip' wants it to do." The most rewarding part, he agreed with his fellow curlers, is the friendship and camaraderie associated with the game.



khoughton@newstote.com



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