ORLEANS — “It’s chess on ice.” That’s how Bill Fragaszy of Yarmouth Port describes the intricate sport of curling. Fragaszy and other members of the Lower Cape Curling Club take over the Charles Moore Arena on Wednesday mornings and Sunday afternoons for their league games.
For a sport with its own language (see glossary), curling games are friendly occasions: before and after each match, curlers shake hands and say “good curling.” Members of opposing teams frequently offer encouragement, congratulations, and tips during games. Lower Cape curlers regularly socialize after games and the losing team buys the drinks.
The Lower Cape Curling Club is in its second year and has expanded. It offered three “Learn to Curl” sessions at the Moore Arena in November, and it plans to offer more in 2020. Curling involves lots of rules and strategy.
“It’s a great game in that respect,” said Peggy O’Connor. She curls on Wednesdays.
At the same time, curling requires little equipment or physical prowess. Players can show up in tennis shoes and warm clothes. Fragaszy said he appreciates that curling is a game for all people — men, women, and the disabled. People with back problems can use the stick to throw the stone and those in wheelchairs can also play. Curling is a Paralympic sport.
Fragaszy attended a Learn to Curl session at the Cape Cod Curling Club in Falmouth in 2012 and has been playing ever since. The Falmouth club, founded in 1969, is robust, with its own rink dedicated to the sport. The Charles Moore Arena, on the other hand, is a multipurpose rink used for hockey, figure skating, and recreational skating in addition to curling. The Zamboni cleans the ice before each curling event, but there are still nicks and ridges that curlers need to account for.
The ice may not be as pristine as in Falmouth, but some curlers like it that way.
“It makes it a little more interesting I think,” Bill Hastings said. “There are more variables to work with.”
“I enjoy the challenge of the game,” Fragaszy said. “Every game is different.”
Curling tournaments are called bonspiels. The Cape Cod Curling Club has held an annual wheelchair summer bonspiel for the last 10 years. Fragaszy said two members of the club recently attended an all-women bonspiel off Cape.
Peter and Joan Nix, from Orleans, play on Sunday afternoons. Peter said his parents curled and he joined a curling club in high school when he lived in New Jersey. After that he didn’t play again until he moved to the Cape.
“I found out about the league in the local paper, so I decided to join,” he said. “It’s like learning the game all over again.”
Curling has grown in popularity in recent years with increased TV coverage. The U.S. Curling Association lists 185 member clubs. In Orleans, four teams compete on Wednesdays and six on Sundays. The curlers hail from all over the Lower and Outer Cape, Yarmouth, and Centerville.
Fragaszy said the Wednesday morning league is mostly older, retired folks but on Sunday afternoons some younger people play. The club hopes to attract more young people.
“It’s like golf in that you’re just hitting a ball,” said Joan Nix said. “But getting the ball where you want it to go is the hard part.”
Would-be curlers are welcome to attend games or sessions at the arena. One caveat, said Fragaszy: “In the fall we do sometimes play the same time as the Patriots.”
A curling game is divided into ends, like innings in baseball. Two teams compete through eight ends to see who can rack up the most points. Each curler throws two stones during each end and the team with the most stones closest to or within the house earn points. Each stone that lands nearest or inside the house earns one point.
Curlers start on one end of the ice and use their hand or a stick to throw the stone, aiming for it to stop inside the house at the other end of the ice.
The skip of each team stands behind the house and helps direct the curler on where to aim the stone and how to curl it. The skip also tells the sweepers when to sweep or hold off depending on the speed of the stone.
The team with the most points at the end of eight ends wins.
A Curling glossary: Sticks, stones, and other terms of art in the curling world
Stone: The ball in curling, made of polished granite, easy to slide. The bottom is concave so only the outside ring touches the ice.
Stick: A pole that can be used to throw the stone.
Sweep: A broom or brush used by two players who sweep the ice in front of a stone as it travels toward the house. This reduces friction and helps the stone travel farther.
Throw: The action of a curler pushing the stone toward the house.
Curl: The spin a curler can put on the stone to direct it.
End: Similar to an inning in baseball, a portion of a curling game that is completed when each team has thrown eight stones.
House: The rings or circles toward which curlers throw the stone. The house consists of a 12-foot ring, 8-foot ring, 4-foot ring, and a bullseye, called a button. There is one house at each end of the ice rink.
Backline: The line across the ice at the back of the house. Stones that travel past this line are removed from play.
Hacks: The footholds at each end of the ice from which curlers start their delivery of the stone.
Hog line: A line 10 meters from the hack at each end of the ice. Curlers must release their stone before the hog line.
Lead: The first player on a team to deliver a pair of stones for his or her team in each end.
Skip: This player is essentially the captain of the team. They determine the strategy and stand behind the house to help direct where curlers should throw their stones based on where other stones are on the ice. The skip delivers the last pair of stones for his or her team in each end.
Pebble: A spray of water made on the ice before play begins.
Take out: When a stone is deliberately thrown to hit another stone of the opposing team and take it out of the house.
Guard: A stone that is thrown and sits in front of the house to try and protect other stones from being taken out.