Social curling is sweeping the Comox Valley.
Every Monday and Wednesday morning, 20 teams of 50+ mixed curlers hit the ice at the Comox Valley Curling Club to enjoy two draws (9 a.m and 11:30 a.m.) of their favourite sport.
The club also has a competitive mixed seniors league, with 24 teams, for a total of approximately 200 players age 50 or better. But social league president Michael Spender leaves no doubt that his league is all about fun and friendship.
“It’s a very welcoming and open environment. Very, very friendly. But that’s curling…it’s a pretty friendly game anyway. Regardless of winning or losing, players shake hands with the other team. They usually wear name tags, but they’ll introduced themselves if they don’t.”
While the competitive league registers curlers as teams, Spender notes, “We register people as individuals, with small exceptions like a man and wife wanting to play together. We take down what position they’d like to play, then we draw teams.”
With few exceptions, players will play the same position all season.
“However, if a skip feels his second is not up to the work he might switch him to third. But it’s rare to switch people around of their own volition – it’s not a democracy out there, the skip has the say-so on everything,” said Spender.
“After 18 games we redraw all the teams. People can then decide if they want to play in a more responsible – or a less responsible – position on the rink,” he said. The redrawing of teams ensures more people get to know even more people over the course of the season.
Spender says the social league currently has 20 teams, with 77 players and a rotation of three spares from a list of 25. There is room in the social league to accommodate 24 teams.
“There’s six sheets of ice, all brand new, and really pleasant to play on,” Spender said, adding registration is ongoing.
“Anybody who wants to play can play. There is no cutoff or deadline (to register),” Spender said.
The current draw ends in early January, and Spender said that would be a good time for those interested to sign up.
“If they wanted to play on a regular basis, we would give them a cost of about one-third of the full cost (as) the season ends in March.”
Spender notes spares play a per-game fee.
“We have a spares board. We need one as people are often ill or have a doctor or dentist appointment.
“We range (in age) up to 91 or 92 years,” said Spender. (On the day The Record dropped by the curling club, Grant Compton was on the ice curling and celebrating his 90th birthday).
“People have open heart surgery and all sorts of stuff during the season with us,” Spender says.
The call for spares increases in January through March when many curlers become snowbirds.
“We’ve got a lot of people who go away on a regular basis, three or four weeks at a time. We compensate those folks. If they miss six games in a row we give a portion of their (annual) fee back to them. I think it’s the only league that does that.”
Membership fees are also important to support the social aspect of the social league.
“We have a Christmas social, a wind-up social in March, two fun bonspiels, and two golf tournaments and a picnic in the summer. (The league) is a year-round thing. When people get together in the summer you can tell they really enjoy seeing their curling buddies and asking about what they’ve been doing in the summer,” said Spender.
The club has been around for about 25 years and has many long-serving members. Spender notes that when curlers lose their competitive edge in the one league they often switch to the social league. Several members play in both leagues, he added. The competitive league also curls in the morning, and Spender says that works out well in two ways: logistically as the younger leagues comprise mostly working people for whom the morning draws would not be a convenient, and financially as well.
“It’s nice for the club as we have nearly 200 seniors using the ice in the daytime. That makes a big difference to the viability of club. As a result we have the lowest curling club fees I think in B.C. and maybe even the country.”
Spender notes the Comox Valley Curling Club is preparing to host the annual Seniors Invitational Bonspiel, a mixed event with a maximum of 24 teams and “massive prizes – all cash,” said Spender. Registration is open now by contacting the club at 250-334-4712 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Entries come from all over for the fun weekend.
Spender, in his first year as president of the social club after several years in other executive positions, says that while there his job involves a lot of organization, there is a good committee to get things done.
“We’re lucky in that respect. We have good volunteers who will run things. We’re always ahead of the game. That’s one thing about seniors, they have time. They may not have much else, but things are organized,” Spender said with a laugh.