A club plays the popular Olympic sport weekly
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — When you think of curling, Richmond isn’t the first place that comes to mind.
Canada? Yes. The tundra that is Michigan or upstate New York? A strong possibility. But Richmond isn’t exactly the epicenter of curling in North America.
James Deyerle doubted the city even had people who played the sport.
He’d gotten interested in curling during the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, and in 2012 as the Super Bowl was being hosted in Indianapolis — where he was living at the time — he watched the local curling club’s demonstration.
“It’s weird. I’ve never seen anything like this,” he remembers thinking as he watched the sport for the first time.
Suddenly he found himself playing with close to four dozen other curlers in the local club, enjoying the intellectual side of the game.
A few years later, the 31-year-old engineer and his wife moved to Richmond. Deyerle didn’t think he’d be able to continue playing his new hobby.
“I thought: ‘There’s not going to be, but maybe there is a curling club in Richmond,’” he said.
Forty-eight hours after moving to Richmond, he was playing with the Curling Club of Virginia at the Richmond Ice Zone in North Chesterfield.
“A lot of people would never imagine that in a southern city like Richmond that we have curling, but we do,” said Travis Hamilton, the president of the club.
While hockey remains the most popular Winter Olympics sport in the U.S., curling is on the rise. In Richmond, the curling club has expanded from eight founding members to nearly 30 current members and is preparing for another membership bump that normally comes after viewers are engrossed with the Olympic sport they find oddly satisfying.
Like Deyerle, Andrew McBride watched curling as part of the 2006 Winter Olympics and became fascinated with the sport.
He traditionally went skiing with his wife, but wanted a new adventure. McBride, the associate vice president for facilities at the University of Richmond, looked for where he could play. There was a club in Washington, D.C. There was one in Maryland and one in Raleigh, N.C. None close to Richmond.
A few years went by before the couple drove to Maryland for a beginner’s curling event. They’ve been playing ever since.
“That just got us hooked,” said McBride.
Realizing that a trip to Maryland wasn’t feasible every time they wanted to curl, the two helped found the local curling club with six other people.
At first, they had to haul the 16 42-pound granite stones used in the game back and forth between the ice rink and their home. Now they have storage and more players.
“Anyone can do it. We’ve had kids do it. We have older folks who do it,” said McBride. “It’s just a lot of fun for everyone.”
While Deyerle and McBride were late arrivals to the sport, Hamilton, the club’s president, has been playing since his childhood in Canada.
He first took up curling in fifth grade when his gym class would go to the local curling club less than a mile from the school. Hamilton also enjoys the intellectual side of the sport.
“It’s a game of skill, not necessarily a game of strength,” he said.
The club typically plays on Thursday and Saturday nights. Afterward, the winning team buys the losing team drinks at local bars and restaurants.
For the Olympics, the club is hosting watch parties at restaurants around Richmond.
“It really is a fun game to watch,” said Hamilton.
Olympic TV viewers seem to agree.
During the last Olympics, it was the was the top-rated sport of the day on NBC Sports Network near the start of the Olympics and had more than 1 million viewers on CNBC that same day, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Expecting more people will be interested in the sport after the Olympics, the club has set up eight “Learn2Curl” events in mid-March. Details can be found on the club’s website, www.curlingva.org.