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Summer sport series: Round 3, Curling

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With the NBA Finals wrapped up, and the MLB season months away from the playoff push, View Sports is venturing into the unknown, taking a look at popular sports around the globe that maybe aren't so big in our own backyard.

Over the next few issues, we'll tackle what it's like to learn popular sports from scratch, and see what we find.

Today's sport: Curling.

 

Curling is quintessentially a leap-year sport for many of us. It comes along the television airwaves every four years as part of the Winter Olympic package, captivating many into its strange hypnotic pull: Just what is going on out there, and how did a giant, frozen version of shuffleboard become so popular?

Despite the Arizona Coyotes calling the Valley home, ice sports are a bit peculiar to the southern portion of our state. I mean, it’s impossible to gather people to play ice hockey, no matter how many are willing, when the weather never cooperates. Such was not the case in Scotland, where curling's roots hail from. It’s an old sport, with evidence of its existence dating back to the 1500s. The oldest club currently active was founded in 1716.

Those early versions of the game were played with flat-bottomed river stones over frozen ponds. Proving to be difficult to find uniformed stones, the game eventually modernized and moved into indoor rinks with consistent playing surfaces and equipment.

Curling is played by two teams of four players each on a curling sheet, which is about 150 feet long by 14.5 to 16.5 feet wide.

Each team has an allotment of eight stones, weighing about 40 pounds that it throws, or in essence, slides, toward the house, or target, on the opposite side of the curling sheet. The team’s chief goal is to get as many stones as it can as close as it can to the center of the house, called the button. An end is complete when all 16 stones have been played, and a match is typically eight ends. Only one team can score after an end, and tallies a point for every stone closer to the center than its opponent’s best stone.

To win, simply score more points than your opponent by the completion of all eight ends.

All four players of each team rotate positions for each throw, and teams alternate throwing stones during each end.

Obviously, the lasting images of curling are throwing and sweeping. The thrower begins from the hack, where he pushes off from blocks drilled into the ice and glides toward the near line, called the hog line. The thrower must release the stone before passing that line, or suffer losing that attempt. The stone must travel past the far hog line, but stop before the end line, to count.

The sweepers, contrary to popular desert belief, are not just out of work professional cleaners. Their job is to help guide the stone to the target by reducing friction, decrease the amount of curl (spin), or clean debris from the path with specialized brooms. The stones tend to curl more as they slow down, so sweeping is crucial to increase velocity and keep it on target.

So, while it looks funny, it is practical.

Teams throw stones to try and reach the center, but there’s a layer of strategy to each throw. Teams can try to set up a line of defense to protect a stone already in good position, making their opponents’ next shot more difficult, or try and take out opponents' stones to tilt the numbers nearest the house in its favor.

There are some additional rules as to when stones can be knocked out by an opponent, but the gist of the game remains to try and take the end by getting the stone closest to the center.

Curling is not dominated by 6-foot-6, world-class athletes, which lends to the crowd thinking, “How hard can it be?”

Very, at an elite level, since you’re dealing with precise accuracies over large distances. You’re not winning matches employing the bull-in-a-china-shop method. To excel at curling is to be detailed, skillful and strategic.

Temperatures may be hovering around 110 degrees, but don't let that eliminate the chance to try out curling in the Valley. The Coyotes Curling Club operates in Tempe at 2202 W. Medtronic Way, Suite 101.

The curling center offers beginners classes and various leagues at, as the website puts it, “the United States’ most southern dedicated ice curling facility.”

For information, give them a call at 480-447-4559 or send an email to info@coyotescurling.com.

 

Shane McOwen can be reached at smcowen@westvalleyview.com or on Twitter @ShaneMcOwen.

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