OGDEN — Just last week, most northern Utahns probably had not even heard of curling. As of today, a lot less are ignorant of this Olympic ice sport.
At The Ice Sheet in Ogden this weekend, the top 10 curling teams in the United States gathered for a high performance camp, sponsored by the United States Curling Association. Those attending included the 2000 national championship men's and women's teams, which won their titles just six months ago at this same venue. Looking forward to the world competition next March and then the Olympic trials the following December, these curlers came on the ice to sharpen their mental and physical skills under the tutorship of Canadian and European professionals brought here by the U.S. association's new athlete development director, Ed Lukowich.
However, these athletes not only traveled from throughout the country to improve their own medal performances, their aim also was to "grow" the sport in Utah, as they put it.
Judging from the large turnout at a youth clinic Friday evening, Utah is ripe for the picking. Throughout the four-day event, which began Thursday and ends today, these athletes conducted free public clinics and visited and spoke at several local public elementary and junior high schools, and at civic organizations. They even gave a clinic Harley-Davidson riders in Ogden for a Harley-Davidson convention.
"In just about everything we do in USA curling," said Rick Patzke, director of communications for the United States Curling Association, "we try to have a promotional element. [The athletes] realize to grow this sport they have to get the word out."
Speaking of the effect in the lives of the youth — potential curlers — he added, "If you open up a door for these kids, it gives them a different outlook than their regular home and school environment."
About 25 boys and girls were invited to the youth clinic via the Ogden City police department's "Let's Play" and "Youth Impact" programs, as well as the Ogden City parks and recreation department and the Marshall White Center. "These are kids who won't get the opportunity to do this sport," said Jon Wilson, youth coordinator for the Ogden Curling Club. He added that it would be "a waste not to give them a 'taste' of it."
And these kids obviously liked the taste. There were basketball players and football and hockey players, and kids who never considered themselves athletes. They slid all over the ice "throwing" these stones to get points. And some displayed a knack for the game.
"It's fun," said 12-year-old Chelsea. "It's different."
Sixteen-year-old Donnell, who has played a lot of basketball, described curling as a sport that "takes a lot of touch. This game is a little more complicated than basketball."
When asked what he'd tell other kids if they said curling wasn't "cool" like basketball or football, he replied, "Give it a chance. It's a very fun game. It takes concentration, touch and balance."
Bob Bills, youth director with the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, was pleased with the results of the clinic. "We are giving these kids an Olympic experience. All these kids are going to walk out of here having touched an Olympic sport."