‘Twas the Tuesday before Christmas, the last night of league play at the Evergreen Curling Club before a holiday break took hold, and one lonely match silently plays out at the far end of the ice sheet.
Kathy Placek’s voice suddenly pierces the quiet.
YES! YES! YES!
The 59-year-old Vancouver resident’s plaintive shrieks to her teammates direct them to sweep the rock down the ice, providing ample commentary for how this throw progresses.
Finally, a crisp, clipped NO! delivers the bad news. Placek realized at the last instant that the rock hadn’t cooperated, finishing off the line she and the rest of her four-person Team Watson had hoped.
It all looks so simple. Maybe you have played shuffleboard at the neighborhood bar or, if your’re lucky, while on a cruise ship. Perhaps during the 2014 Winter Olympics, you watched curling for a few minutes during the NBC broadcast, heard those same piercing cries, and thought to yourself, I could do that.
As the 2018 Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, approach, the Evergreen Curling Club would love for you to learn more. The club, housed in a warehouse smack in the heart of Beaverton, hosts Learn to Curl classes regularly. That’s how Placek and her husband, Art, 60, first learned of the sport nine years ago when the club held a class at its former home at the Lloyd Center Ice Rink.
The couple, married now for 37 years, had just moved to the region from Chicago. “We saw an ad in the newspaper and thought it would be fun to try out,” said Art, a retired math teacher at WSU Vancouver.
They had such fun, they soon joined a league. In the ensuing nine years, each has won Mountain Pacific Curling Association (MoPac) regional championships, beating teams from clubs throughout Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Utah.
“Once we got hooked, we found more and more reasons to stay with it,” Kathy said. “I liked it because it was a new sport for both of us to learn together and how everybody participated as a team, and I loved the community atmosphere and the socialization that went along with the curling.”
That socialization was on full display on this Tuesday night, with the teams that played in the earlier league session still hanging out.
“The winning team buys a round for the losing team, then you just sit around for an hour or two and have fun,” Art said.
Art recently refereed the men’s final at the US Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska, in November, where he received some television face time when he performed the measurement to determine whether one of the teams got one or two points.
“I was really excited to be out there with that level of curler,” said Art, who is in the pool of officials to work the World Men’s Championships in Las Vegas later this year. “I’ll never be able to curl at the same level as the people who were out there, but to be on the ice with people at that level, it was really something.”
Curling 101 – a Beginner’s Guide to the Winter Olympics Sport
Curling dates to the mid-1500s, with the first written evidence of the sport appearing in 1540. The first curling clubs were formed in Scotland, and during the 19th century, as Scots migrated to Canada, Sweden, the US and other countries, the sport’s roots spread.
A curling sheet of ice is 150 feet long, with targets (or houses) at each end of the sheet. The object of the game is for one team to place its stones closer to the center of the house (the tee) than the other team, with a point scored for each stone that is closest.
Each team consists of four players – lead, second, third (typically the vice skip), and skip – who each throw two stones. Points are scored after each round (or end), and only one team can score per end.
Stones are made of granite and weigh approximately 20 kilograms. The stone is thrown by a team member, with two others holding brooms to sweep the stone down the ice and the skip or vice skip by the target, setting the line to throw the stone and shouting out instructions as the stone curls down the rink.
There’s so much more to the sport, though, and the intricacies and strategies involved take years to learn. Evergreen holds Learn to Curl events, a 5-week instructional course and novice leagues to lessen the learning curve.
Evergreen Curling Club History
The Evergreen Curling Club opened in 2002 at Mountain View Ice Arena in Vancouver as part of a wave of curling clubs that opened throughout the country in the excitement of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.
Founding members Doug Schaak and Cheryl Doucette held their first open house in October, which drew Jeff Tomlinson’s interest. A Canadian native who moved to Seattle at age 6 when his father took a job with Boeing in the early 1960s, Tomlinson won the USA Curling junior title in 1978 for his home Granite Curling Club and just missed making the medal rounds at the world junior championships in Switzerland.
“It was the first year I skipped a team,” the 61-year-old Tomlinson said, pointing proudly to a world championship banner hanging on the locker room wall that he’d donated to ECC. “We had a 14-year-old on our team and a 17-year-old. Norway beat us in a tiebreaker to knock us out, but I thought we did pretty darn good.”
After college, Tomlinson played high-level curling for a couple of years before settling into everyday life. Still, when he saw an Oregonian story about the new club’s formation, he decided to stop by Mountain View Ice Arena to check it out.
“There were like 80 or so people lined up along the wall, and they had one rink set up,” he recalled. “I could see they needed help, so I started giving people instructions as they were standing there waiting their turn. Doug saw me and realized, ‘Oh, he knows the game,’ so you could say I’m a charter member of the club.”
Two years after the club formed, Lloyd Center Ice Rink approached club members about curling at its facility. ECC moved its operations there, fighting for ice time with hockey teams and figure skaters, skipping stones on ice pockmarked with ruts that a Zamboni just can’t smooth over.
Members started looking into creating a dedicated curling link, following a model used by the Columbus Curling Club in Ohio – finding warehouse space where ice could be made perfect for curling, pebbled to allow the rock to curl.
Bruce Irvin, a Wisconsin transplant who’d recently joined the club, spearheaded the effort, which culminated with Evergreen opening just the second curling facility west of the Rockies in 2012.
The club soon saw its membership grow – in 2016, it was up to 229 members, with leagues every night, a junior league every Saturday, and the ability to host everything from fun bonspiels (friendly tournaments) to MoPac regional events. ECC even held its first USA Curling national championship in 2017, the Senior National Championships that served as the world championship qualifier.
Why join a curling team?
Holding big national events, though, isn’t what motivates most of the Evergreen Curling Club membership. “At the heart of it all, it’s a lot of fun,” Tomlinson said. “If you watch people sweeping the ice, you’re thinking that’s one of the silliest things I’ll ever see. But I’ve been curling forever now. I just love this sport.”
Art, with his mathematical background, loves the strategy involved in each match.
“You’re talking about using angles, thinking how do I have to hit this rock to make it move in a particular way,” he said, his eyes lighting up. “You never get the same situation twice. The ice is a natural playing surface, and it changes as a game goes on. It behaves a little differently each time, so you have to think, how’s the shot going to react?”
For Kathy’s team, unfortunately, the shots didn’t react the way she and her teammates – skip Dana Watson, lead Gail Starr and second Margot Standeven – hoped. They lost their match handily, but when everyone came off the ice, you would never know who won or lost.
That is, until the bar tab came due.