Eastern Wake: Community

Curling community grows in Triangle

Carolina Classic Curling Tournament participants raise a ceremonial toast before before the start of the final day of their tournament on Sunday August 4, 2013 at the Polar Ice House Wake Forest, N.C.
Carolina Classic Curling Tournament participants raise a ceremonial toast before before the start of the final day of their tournament on Sunday August 4, 2013 at the Polar Ice House Wake Forest, N.C. rwillett@newsobserver.com

Sherri Fillingham’s three-woman, one-man curling team played against one woman and three men Sunday, and the game came down to the final rock – the very end.

Curling gets a significant part of its appeal from that kind of gender neutrality, said Fillingham, a Raleigh resident and Shaw University’s sports information director. It’s also open to a wide range of ages, and socializing is required.

“It’s considered bad manners to leave right after the game,” Fillingham said Sunday afternoon after the final rounds of the sixth annual Carolina Classic curling tournament. The Triangle Curling Club played host for the event.

“You are supposed to sit at the same table and socialize, the two teams together,” she said. “The winner is supposed to buy the loser a drink after the game – that’s how it works.”

Although she played for a Maryland-based team, Fillingham was one of more than 20 members of the Triangle club who competed in the bonspiel (curl-ese for “tournament”), which began Friday at the Polar Ice House at the Factory facility in Wake Forest. The finals opened in true curling tradition – with a bagpipe processional onto the ice, then a toast shared by the curlers and the piper.

None of the four exclusively Triangle teams reached the event finals but three area individuals, Fillingham included, were there playing for mixed teams.

“We had the chance to take out one of their (stones) and score two (points) to win, but couldn’t come up with the shot,” Fillingham said. Her Potomac/Triangle hybrid team finished as the runner-up in the second event after the close finish with The Expats, a team originally consisting of three American-Canadian players and one from Maryland.

“But curling at a bonspiel like this isn’t about winning or losing,” she said. “It’s about having a good time, and we did. We had a blast.”

Knightdale resident and local club member Joe Mecca filled a vacancy on The Expats team and competed against Fillingham in the final draw, and Clayton resident Keith Scott was part of the New Pond/Pittsburgh team that claimed the fourth event.

A team from Kingsville, Ontario, outplayed a club from Charlotte to win the main event. Other players and teams competed out of clubs from Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Knoxville, Tenn., Columbus, Ohio, Pittsburgh and Seattle.

TV has had an effect

The “Roaring Game,” as it is sometimes called, has quietly roared its way into the Triangle during the last two decades.

Established in 1995, the Triangle Curling Club consists of about 80 members who hail from all over the area – Cary, Chapel Hill, Clayton, Durham, Knightdale, Raleigh, Wake Forest and Youngsville. The club has called the Polar Ice House home for the past seven years, and was based at several rinks in its early years.

“Getting ice time has been a challenge in the past,” said Dave Hamilton, the club’s president and a member since 2010. “We’re able to get two nights a week during our prime season that we get to curl.”

The club’s membership pulsates with each Winter Olympics, according to Hamilton. The sport’s following has grown since the 1998 games in Nagano, Japan, when curling was first recognized as an official Winter Olympics sport.

“Almost unanimous since it’s been put on television in the Olympics, you’ll get that reaction from people who want to join, that, ‘Wow, it looks so cool on TV,’ ” Hamilton said. That’s how Jeff Turnham, of Cary, became hooked. He joined the Triangle club in 2006 after watching the televised curling of the Torino, Italy, games.

“(The Olympics) is free advertising,” Turnham said. “We almost doubled in membership in 2010 after Vancouver.”

Preparing for more of the same

Triangle Curling Club leaders expect the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia will have a similar impact on membership. They hope to be ready.

“We have the land purchased in Durham,” said Mecca, a club spokesman. “We’re in the process of securing the building loans and getting some other funding in place.

“Our goal is to have it open right around the time of the Olympics in February.”

For some people, as Hamilton put it, curling is a bucket list-type of thing. He says about 10 percent of those who try the sport will come back and try it again, but the demographic is extremely broad.

“The sport appeals to both the athlete and the geek,” Hamilton said. Turnham said the mixture of “anyone can do it,” the strategy and the social aspects are what attract people of all different ages and walks of life.

“We’ve done learning curling sessions with the N.C. School of the Blind, wheelchair curling, and kids-age up to seniors,” Turnham said. “We’re on the ice for two or three hours with people from all over the country and world, and we have just as much time and fun off the ice. It really is a curling community.”