Morgantown Club Brings Olympic Sport to W.Va.
Curling is one of those sports you only really hear about every four years when the Olympics come around.
Four years ago, Morgantown Curling Club president Jeff Ryan was swept away watching the USA men’s team win gold in Pyeongchang, and he knew he wanted to try the sport for himself.
“They're pushing a rock, about 150 feet down the ice, there's these crazy sweepers that are somehow helping that rock get to where it needs to be, there's a lot of strategy to the game. It's kind of like 3D chess,” Ryan said.
But after driving three hours round-trip to play for 90 minutes in Pittsburgh, Ryan decided to start a club closer to home. He met up with other local curling enthusiasts, set up a GoFundMe, and before he knew it, Ryan had created The Morgantown Curling Club. It is the first and only curling club in the state.
“I'm in a rental agreement with USA curling. They gave us three sheets of stones - a sheet is the lane in curling ,” Ryan said. “So it was 48 curling stones.”
The stones - which are made of granite from a select few islands in Scotland where the sport originated - weigh over 40 pounds. Ryan and a friend drove all the way to Wisconsin to pick up a literal ton of stones to make play in Morgantown a reality.
Part of the agreement with USA Curling is to hold ‘Learn to Curl’ sessions to get the word out about the sport and to teach potential new members the way of the stone.
At a recent event at the Morgantown Ice Arena, the Morgantown Curling Club took to the ice just after 9 p.m.
Club members had no time to waste in transforming the rink from a skating surface to curling sheets. While curling doesn’t require its players to wear skates, it does require a special preparation of the ice, and time is always a factor.
“You're watching us run around crazily, because there are X number of jobs, once the zamboni dry-cuts the ice,” Heather Barclay said.
Heather and her husband Kevin started curling when they lived in Pittsburgh, and were still making the drive to play there before they became founding members of the Morgantown club.
Preparations include melting starting blocks into the ice - called hacks - chilling the granite and measuring out the playing field.
“A couple of the other men draw the house because the house is a particular size,” Barclay said.
The house is the target curlers aim for, and the Morgantown curlers draw theirs by hand using permanent markers and a homemade, wooden guide.
Unlike the lines for hockey, the curling lines are temporary. The Morgantown Curling Club has to share the ice with hockey teams and skaters, and are lucky if they can get eight sessions - each lasting two to three hours at most - in one year.
Finally, a gravity-fed sprinkler is used to dapple water across the three sheets quickly taking shape on the rink.
Those pebbles act like ball bearings that allow the game’s granite stones to glide across the ice. That’s where the sport’s most iconic piece of equipment - the broom - comes into play.
“You sweep to melt the ice,” Barclay said.
As the group prepared the ice, 24 or so participants for the club’s ‘Learn to Curl’ session waited patiently. Two of those newcomers were Jason and Christine Gossett
“Yeah, this has been something we've wanted to do for several years. We've watched curling on the Olympics for years. We're finally excited to get a chance to actually do this tonight,” Jason Gossett said. Christine - whose brother curls in Wisconsin - said they were grateful to finally live in a town that had access to the sport.
Club members rush through all that setup to ensure that participants like the Gossetts have as much time as possible to learn and hopefully enjoy the sport before they have to leave the ice rink at f 11:15 p.m. Every moment preparing the ice is a moment someone’s not curling.
With the 2022 Olympics games underway in Beijing, demand for curling has increased across the country, and as the only club in the state, Morgantown is no exception.
“I wanted to dedicate this year to teaching people and now that we've got some folks that are excited about it and want to come back, hopefully we'll have more just scrimmaging dates next season,” Ryan said.
For now, West Virginia’s pioneering curlers are just happy with the time they can get on the ice, and their biggest hope for next year is simple: more time.