Family sweeps into ice sport

Curling, a winter game that uses stones, brooms is gaining in popularity


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When Steve Burchesky tells his wife to check the hack because he wants to make sure he does not shoot a hogger in the end, he is not hunting pigs in a field but rather victories on ice.

Steve and Bonnie Burchesky and their children, Michael, 14, and Natalie, 12, compete as a family at curling, an ice sport played with brooms and rocks.

"Hogger" -- a shot that falls short and is removed from play -- and "end" -- a period of play analogous to an inning in baseball -- are among the terms used by players who vie in teams to propel stones across ice.

Because curling is not a contact sport, it is an ideal game for families, said Mr. Burchesky, of Canonsburg.

"We all have responsibilities in the goal of winning," he said.

To promote the sport in the region, Mr. Burchesky about seven years ago helped found the Pittsburgh Curling Club, a nonprofit organization that offers curling events. The club has about 120 members.

Similar to shuffleboard, curling is played with two teams of four players who meet on a rectangle of ice that is 146 feet long and 15 feet wide.

Special preparation of the ice is necessary to accommodate curling. Targets and lines are painted on it and hot water is sprayed over it to create a pebble-like surface.

Team members take turns sliding a numbered granite stone toward a target, or "house," while two "sweepers" with brooms whisk the ice in front of the stone to create a path and direct its course. The fourth player stands by the house and directs where and how the stone should be thrown.

A game usually consists of eight to 10 ends, or periods, in which each member throws two stones, for a total of 16. Points are awarded after both teams finish propelling their stones toward the bull's-eye-shaped target.

The team with the rock closest to the button, or the smallest ring in the target, is awarded one point for each of its stones that is closer than its opponent's closest rock.

Skilled curling requires a basic understanding of physics.

"The harder you sweep, the cleaner the ice [will be], and the farther and straighter the stone will slide," Mr. Burchesky explained. "But you can't make the stone move any faster."

Endurance is not that important, but balance and coordination give a player an edge, he said.

The game originated in the 16th century in Scotland, said Terry Kolesar, spokeswoman for the U.S. Curling Association, also known as USA Curling. Played on frozen marshes, curling provided opportunities for neighbors in rural communities to socialize.

Players often pass the sport from generation to generation, Ms. Kolesar said, and continue to prize its social aspects. Members of the winning team often buy a drink for their opponents after the game.

Curling has become a popular event during the Olympic Winter Games in recent years, further fueling interest in the sport.

Curling is most popular in Canada, Ms. Kolesar said, where about 1 million people play.

"People in Canada appreciate and enjoy winter sports," she said.

In the United States, about 16,000 people play the game and about 145 curling clubs exist, she said. Curling is most popular in states contiguous to Canada, but as interest grows, more clubs are forming throughout the country. Curling clubs have recently formed in California, Texas, Utah and Arizona, and others are forming as more ice arenas add the sport, Ms. Kolesar said.

The Pittsburgh Curling Club includes teams for men and women as well as mixed teams for adults and children. Curling also can be adapted for people who use wheelchairs.

The club holds an annual "TropiCurl" each summer, which draws clubs from all over the United States and Canada to Pittsburgh for a four-day event.

Ron Solman, a dean of students and math teacher at Canonsburg Middle School, signed up to curl after the Olympic Winter Games in 2006. He likened the sport to chess more than shuffleboard.

"I watched the curling events in the Olympics, and I got addicted," said Mr. Solman, of South Fayette. "You're always thinking one or two moves ahead."

Mr. Solman, who coaches track and plays golf, persuaded Dale Porter, also a dean of students and math teacher at the middle school, to try curling.

Mr. Porter, of Upper St. Clair, said he occasionally gets ribbing from friends who question whether curling constitutes exercise.

"It's just fun to play," Mr. Porter said. "Players often go out together before or after a game. We have a lot of laughs."

"Some think the sport is boring to watch," Mr. Burchesky said, "but that's only because they don't understand the rules or the strategy."


For more information on the Pittsburgh Curling Club, including a list of terms used in the sport, visit www.pittsburghcurlingclub.com . For more on USA Curling, visit www.usacurl.org . Erin Gibson Allen is a freelance writer who can be reached at suburbanliving@post-gazette.com .


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