A Stone’s Throw Away – Curling finds its footing
As the seasons change, as the state of water turns from liquid to solid, the state of mind of a few dozen cold-hardy Berkshirites becomes lulled and lured by thoughts of granite stones, broomsticks, and a vocabulary requiring its own glossary of terms.
This happens to people like Mark Fischetti of Lenox, a science journalist. To Tom and Loretta Tenuta of West Stockbridge, who run a catering company. To Gerrit Blauvelt of Williamstown, who works in the travel industry. From teens to septuagenarians, from the sprightly to the slightly arthritic, it will soon be curling season once again.
Are you in, or what?
Here’s what you’ve got to do: Just show up to the one of the Berkshire Curling Club’s learn-to-curl nights planned this winter at the Boys & Girls Club ice arena in Pittsfield. (Visit curlberkshires.org for the schedule.) You’ll discover a kind-hearted crew ready to reveal all you need to know about “hacks,” “hits,” and “hog lines”; about “skips,” “sliders,” and “pebbles.”
If you like it, you can join in on league play in which club members are divided into teams. Maybe they’ll entice you to attend a “bonspiel” (while kindly explaining to you what in the world a “bonspiel” is, see glossary of terms.)
“As soon as you throw a few stones and you see them just sailing down the ice, you’re totally psyched,” Fischetti says. (You don’t actually “throw” the stone; you slide it. Again, curlers sometimes speak a different language.)
Fischetti co-founded this club, much to his own surprise, three winters ago, in 2017-2018. He was a soccer guy, a volleyball guy, not an ice guy. But a Lenox friend of his with icy Nordic roots, Rick Nasman, expressed a desire to try curling. Yeah, curling, that peculiar pastime that began on frozen ponds in Scotland half a millennium ago, resembling shuffleboard with a whole lot of shouting.
For Nasman’s 50th birthday, Fischetti and four other buddies took a trip to the Norfolk Curling Club in Connecticut to try it out. They loved it so much, they organized another curling trip, this time with spouses. They all loved it.
“We thought it was going to be something to just check off our list as something we tried,” recalls Mike Zinchuk of Lenox.
“We got hooked,” says his wife, Karen.
The group eventually met curlers from around the region who encouraged them to find ice anywhere they can and to start their own club.
The Berkshire Curling Club is one of about 165 curling clubs in the country. The sport has grown exponentially since it became an official Olympic medal sport in 1998 and even more so following the improbable gold medal victory the United States garnered in the 2018 Olympics.
With 40 members paying $75 a season ($125 for couples), the Berkshire Curling Club squeezes in ice time on the Boys and Girls Club’s busy schedule. That includes learn-to-curl nights and league nights. It wants to build its own clubhouse with its own ice in the next few years.
In the meantime, they are happily here, devotees to a singular, subzero sport that borders on ritual.
Step beneath the bleachers, and you’ll probably discover Tim Egan, the club president, unpacking the round, 42-pound stones from their elaborate cases. He’ll set each atop the ice “to bring them to temperature.” He’ll probably tell you how each of the stones was cut from one place on earth: a tiny island in Scotland called Ailsa Craig.
You’ll probably discover Gerrit “Ice Man” Blauvelt there, too. He’ll be heating up distilled water. Club members spray the water upon the ice to create tiny ice pebbles, a surface suitable for sliding stones.
You’ll probably discover Fischetti there, too. A physics major in college, he’ll happily tell you about the “almost frictionless physics” of curling. He and others may be heating up iron footholds that they’ll set into the ice. The footholds are called “hacks,” similar to a starting blocks in track and field.
Together, they and others will teach you all you need to know. In short, players shove the granite stones down the ice toward a circular target known as the “house.” Teams earn points through arranging their stones closer to the center of the house than the opposing team.
In league play, most of the shouting consists of the words “Sweep, sweep, sweep!” echoing off the roof rafters. That’s a directive for team members to use those nylon pads set onto broom sticks to brush the ice in front of the stone as it travels, thereby affecting its speed and direction. The “curl” of curling describes this strategic bending of the stone’s trajectory.
“As long as you’re a little coordinated and not too worried about falling, you can be successful,” says Fischetti.
Tom Tenuta, owner of SoMa Catering, started curling in earnest with his wife, Loretta, last season. For them, curling involves just the right amount of competition, smack talk, socializing, and beer at the end of the evening. Winners buy the first round.
“It’s all a blast,” Tom says.
Photo: (The Berkshire Curling Club’s home base, for now, is the Boys & Girls club ice arena in Pittsfield. Club member Jay Blake is poised for action.)
Glossary of Terms — From usacurl.org
Just a few of the many terms used in this strange dialect of curling
A stone that barely touches a circle in the “house.”
A curling tournament.
A stone touched by a player’s body or equipment while in motion. It is removed from play.
The center of the bullseye, or house.
The amount a stone bends across the ice.
The round in which each team throws eight stones.
The footholds from which a thrower kicks off.
When one stone is hit with another and removed from play.
Line the stone must cross to be in play.
A stone that does not reach the far hog line.
The 12-foot ring, 8-foot ring, 4-foot ring and button for which stones aim, collectively.
A fine spray of water applied to ice to improve its grip before play.
The ice that curling is played upon.
The stone closest to the button at any point during the end.
The player who determines the strategy, directs the team’s play, and throws the last two rocks.
The slip on the shoe’s sole to make it easier to slide.