Local players prepare for curling’s Arena National Championships
According to Greg Basrak, president of the Park City Curling Club, it’s going to be a big year for the sport. Olympic years always are.
But this season he hopes the sport retains some of the energy it picks up in February.
“I think the wave will carry on for a year or two,” he said. “It’s just a really fast growing sport.”
He said curling is growing worldwide, but the U.S. is seeing growth more quickly than other nations. In particular, the sport is booming in the mountain pacific region (which includes Utah).
Another reason Basrak is optimistic that the sport will retain its momentum is the Arena National Championships, which are set to be held at the Utah Olympic Oval next May. The competition is essentially the top-level tournament for recreational players, and as its name suggests, will host clubs from around the country.
Basrak said he expected the level of competition to be “all over the board, but the majority of players will be very good.”
In early November, he and his teammates (so far comprising Ben Henderson and John Goodwin) applied for a spot.
Over his time running the club, Basrak has seen participation numbers fluctuate.
“We’ve had as many as 12 teams,” he said. “With nine (teams this year), we get a bye week, and people seem to appreciate that too.”
Most teams have five members — four who play each week and one alternate.
When he and his wife, who was born in Canada and grew up curling, started the club shortly after the Park City Ice Arena was built, all they had was know-how.
“Back then we didn’t have stones; we didn’t have circles painted,” he recalled. “We had to drive to Ogden and (borrow) stones.”
They would draw the layout of the court with a felt tip marker, using a protractor to help draw the circles.
“It’s been a work in progress for 11 years,” Basrak said.
Nationally, curling has followed a similar trend. According to USA Curling, the sport has seen slow growth over the past few years, with membership currently reaching a little more than 20,000 nationwide.
Just a few years ago, Christie Konkol was one of the new recruits to the sport. This year, she is also helping field a team for the Arena National Championships. The Philadelphia transplant recently moved to Park City for climbing, but picked up curling while between climbing partners. She said curling has become her foremost pastime.
“Delivering the stone, I couldn’t believe how hard it was,” she said. “Curling was invented in Scotland and a lot of people compare it to golf. If your swing is off a little bit, your ball isn’t going to go where you want it to be. Same thing with curling.”
She originally became interested in the sport in Philadelphia, where she saw the Norwegian team compete in a televised game. The Norwegians are renowned for wearing zany pants, and the novelty of the scene stuck with her. It’s stuck with many other people too.
“You talk to anyone that doesn’t know much about curling and they say ‘Don’t they always wear crazy pants?’ Well, no, it’s just the one team that wears crazy pants.”
Much to her disappointment.
Other common misconceptions about the sport are that the players don’t wear skates, but special tennis shoes, and that the ice isn’t kept in the same condition as it is for skating. Rather, it’s covered in a thin layer of droplets to create a rough surface.
“They take a hose and sprinkle it across the ice so there’s drips everywhere,” She said. “It’s not like flat or smooth. There’s little bumps on the ice.”
Hence the vigorous scrubbing to clear a path for the stone.
Those myths dispelled, Konkol started becoming deeply involved in the sport, which she found was similar in some ways to her other passion.
“I think they are very different, but they are similar in that climbing can be as hard as you want it to be,” she said. “Curling is the same way. You can play in the league or you can build a team and get competitive and travel and play.”
Konkol traveled to tournaments (called bonspiels in curling), and started to develop her technique. Then in September, she helped form a team to represent the Olympic Oval in Kearns, which includes Basrak’s wife, Debbie, along with Melissa Majchrzak and Erinn Kunik. She said there is no major grand prize for the winner, but it would add recognition for the club, and spur interest about the sport around Utah.
The Arena National Championships bills itself as a venue to give competitors national exposure, which falls in line with Konkol and Basrak’s hopes for expanding the sport.
If that growth comes, Basrak said it would likely be in the form of players like Konkol, who are younger and have time to commit to the sport.
“A lot of people are dedicated,” Basrak said. “It’s a lot like anything else – it’s just about finding time.”
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