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Skip the Charades

“It’s amazing how you can speak right to my heart.
Without saying a word you can light up the dark.
Try as I may I could never explain,
What I hear when you don’t say a thing.”
-Alison Krauss, When You Say Nothing At All

So I’m sitting there on my couch, watching Curling on TV (like ya do). On the screen I see a woman crouched in the hack cleaning her stone. She looks down the sheet. Her skip is standing in the house.

Madam Skip taps the head of her broom off to her right, and then repositions it directly down in front of her. She places her left hand (the one not holding the broom) over her heart, and pats her sternum gently. She then thrusts her left hand straight out to the side. Back in the hack, the woman nods. The two ladies flanking her also nod and start to walk as she pushes out of the hack.

As she glides down the ice she turns her wrist and the stone counterclockwise. The instant her hand lets go of the stone, one of the sweepers calls out, “Six-seven… Six! SIX!”

“YEHP! …YEHP!” returns Madam Skip, and the sweepers start to scrub the ice hard. “Line’s good!” calls out our lady shooter. “HOARD!” Madam Skip bellows repeatedly, encouraging them on. As the stone traverses down the ice, it begins to gently curl. “Six-Seven!” the other sweeper shouts back, fighting to be heard.

“Woh-Woh-WOH!!” Madam Skip responds, waving her arms back-and-forth in front of her. The sweepers lift their brooms, staying with the stone as it just barely passes between two enemy guards, kindly floats into the house, and settles on the button dead-center behind a guard. Hands of pride and joy from the sweepers and Madam Skip raise into the air. The camera cuts back to our lady shooter, who sees this and smiles (knowing she made a great shot).

As I sit on my couch watching all of this, I begin to smile as much as the shooter. “Wow!” I think. “That was an awesome shot!”

With barely an understandable word of English spoken between them, these four women pulled off an incredible draw to the button. Now look back over those first few paragraphs. How many non-verbal (or borderline nonsensical) ways did our ladies communicate? From the broom and hand signals of the skip, to the weird numbering system of the sweepers, to even the shooter shouting about a line, so much was said on the ice without much of anything actually being said at all.

For new curlers like myself, learning how to communicate as a member of the team is an incredibly important skill to master. It’s right up there with say, perfecting one’s delivery slide. But you want to know something crazy? Every team out there will communicate in their random little way differently. I was reminded of this lesson tonight when I subbed in for Matt Galas’s team.

(This marks my second date with WCCC, for those of you keeping track. Yeah, the first one went that well. 😀 If you have no idea what I’m talking about, read all about it here: First Date. Last Night.)

Where I learned to curl, seeing a skip stick his left hand out (my right, as I face him) means he wants an out-turn (counterclockwise) rotation on the stone. So as I stood next to my teammate as he nestled into the hack and saw Matt’s left hand go out, I assumed it would be the same. Imagine that brief moment of horror I felt as I followed the shooter down the ice and saw him rotate the stone clockwise, an in-turn.

“Oh no. He released it the wrong way…” I thought to myself, now on full alert and ready for the skip’s call, believing we’d have make the best of this less-than-ideal throw. Ten or so seconds later, the rock stops in the house, we’re sitting shot stone, and Matt is calling out, “Great shooting!”

My confusion factor was at about a 1000%. “What on Earth just happened?”

A quick question later, I learned Matt and his team call things a bit differently with their arms than what I’m used to. “Okay. I’ll adapt. After all, I’m the sub, right?”

My first shot comes up. I get ready in the hack. I look at Matt and he sticks his left hand out. I pause for a moment, questioning this seemingly odd choice in my head before it hits me and I remember: “In-turn, right?” I shout down. “Yep!” I hear back. “Okay. That I can do.”

Matt then proceeds to wave his hand over his head front to back a few times.

I stop completely. My eyes squint to make sure that, yes, I am seeing this crazy man’s wild flailing accurately. (I’m sure my head involuntarily cocked to the side in bewilderment, too.)

I started to giggle to myself at this point, suddenly feeling very out of place; a stranger in a strange land, almost. I smiled and shrugged that I had no idea what he wanted. Matt, from the other end of the sheet, smiled as well and called out, “Gimme a takeout, up weight.  We’re going for the nose of the stone.”

“Bingo. There we go.” It’s a good thing I could hear him. If Rocket Ice Arena had been too noisy on the ice tonight, I’d have been just shy of useless.

With my previous team at Notre Dame, where I skipped, non-spoken hand signals and gestures were vastly different. For a takeout, I’d personally tap the target stone first, then kick the air. “Kick this you-know-what out the house,” being the unspoken meaning. For a draw, I’d draw my fist slowly into my side like a 1990’s boy band singer who just feels the emotion of his lyrics a bit too much in that awkward music video. (Probably not the best way to send this message, but hey: it got the point across.) And this was just my team. Every single one of the other teams in our league would do something different. I imagine that if Jane Goodall were to walk in and see some of us, she’d find herself suddenly nostalgic for her days spent with the apes in Africa.

Verbal communication wasn’t any similar. Every time Matt would keep it simple and (thankfully) shout “Sweep!” to command us to, you guessed it, sweep a stone, I’d personally have horrible flashbacks to my college days as a theater major in singing lessons, dreading having to belt a high note on an “eeee” sound. (Please don’t ask me to sing for you. I didn’t want the lessons. They were required for my major. And they didn’t go all that well. But I did remember at least one thing from them:) Being a ‘tight’ or ‘closed’ vowel sound, it’s harder to sing an “eeee” on higher pitches, which often require more volume to get to as well.

Knowing this, and knowing I needed to project my voice across the ice to my team, I elected to find a comfortable open vowel sound and used “YAHP!” (my awkward variation on the word, “Yep”) to let them know when to scrub and scrub hard.

Oh, yeah: that weird numbering system the lady sweepers were using in my intro? That’s a real thing. It’s one way to communicate weight. By assigning different ‘zones’ of the house a number, what the sweepers were shouting is roughly where in their numbering system they believed the stone would stop. But even this system can, and often does, differ amongst teams, regions, and nations.

So what’s the absolute right way to call a shot? There isn’t one.

Yes, there are commonalities in ways to call a game of curling that are more or less universal, like the terms “in-turn” and “out-turn” (and thank God for that, or figuring out my handles tonight would’ve been a lot more interesting). But when it comes to non-verbal gestures, that’s the one part of Curling that always rings true: Each and every new team that forms will create its own unique language. The more a team plays together, the more their own individual dialect of curling will form.

And that’s okay!

In fact, that’s half the fun! Pitchers and catchers make up their own crazy hand gestures in baseball. Why can’t a curling team? As long as everyone understands what is being asked, is on the same linguistic wavelength, and effective communication happens during delivery, who is to say what one team shouts or gestures is better than another? Because that’s what it’s all about in the end (no pun intended): Effective communication.

Even if no one else in the room understands me when I put up my palm out like a crossing guard signaling pedestrians to stop, as long as the three people at the other end of sheet know, we’re golden. And if things go according to plan, everyone else will know soon enough what I meant when we’re smiling with our fists in the air, and that other team now has a guard to deal with. 😀

–Eric

(Eric is a guest blogger who spends too much time trying to think of clever and/or witty blog titles. And seriously, no: he will not sing for you. Unless you’re at karaoke. And there’s beer involved. Lots and lots of beer. And even then – don’t hold your breath.)

The Shot that Brings You Back

Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 10.44.29 AMI’ve been watching curling for probably a good 16 years.  If you’re like me, it was an addictive sport to watch during the Olympics at really odd times of the night.  Back in college, it would be a good distraction on that late-night-due-the-next-day paper that you really didn’t want to be working on.

And, if you’re like me, after the Olympics, you forgot about the sport.

Well, this past year … I decided to look up a Curling Club.  And came across Windy City Curling and a learn to curl.   I thought it would be easy, as I’ve played hockey for a good 20 years and knew my way around the ice.

We started out with a broomstacking session, which could be the greatest thing in sports.  Broomstacking is socializing with your fellow curlers, usually with a tasty beverage or two.    Then began the off-ice instruction about the basics of the game.  To be honest, I was ready for the ice.  I was the arm-chair curler, knew everything from several years of watching on TV.

Then we hit the ice.  True fun, but I didn’t know how much finesse that this game requires!  Sending a few screaming through the house, than over-adjusting and having stones burned.

It became my turn to be the skip.  Although we were rotating positions, I got to skip the final end.  We were keeping score, and tied going into the final end.  I took advantage of the time as skip, and tried to be as vocal as I could.  When else do you get to yell at people, and its expected.

I was seeing the movement of the stones, and my team was on FIRE.  We ended up with 4 rocks sitting in the house.  Probably all about 8-12 feet out.  It was my first throw, and I also had the hammer.

You get to a point in sports commonly referred to as being “in the zone.”  Everything else blurred out, the sounds around me muted, and the house looked HUGE.  I released the rock, and it was heading right for the house.  HOLY COW … HOLY COW … HOLY COW … the rock looked perfect.

It ended up settling about 10 feet out.  With the way everything was set-up, the opposing skip would have to curl to the button.  A simple knockout would have still left us up three.

On the outside, I remained cool, calm and collected.  Curling etiquette to a degree is like the etiquette that you show as being a goalie.  Save it for off the ice.

On the inside, I was doing backflips!  I’m imagining fireworks going off on the ice, heck, start playing the national anthem!

I look back, and the opposing skip had already released the next stone.  Once again, the silence creeped back.  Perfect weight, perfect handle.  Seemed like it took 20 seconds for the stone to make it to the house, perfectly curl around for shot rock.  About 6 feet out.

On the outside, I still remained cool, calm and collected.  On the inside, NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!  As you probably have noticed, I am a very competitive person.  I don’t like to lose.

So, the pressure is on.  Had to throw a in-turn handle to even have a shot.  My previous rock and the other skip’s shot rock were looking like beach balls.  I didn’t have a good take-out shot, because I could easily knock out my team’s stones with the way everything was set-up.  Had to draw to the button.

I released my stone, and I wasn’t in the zone.  The first second after release, I didn’t feel it.  Dropped my head for a second, as I was bummed.  Felt like the right weight, but just too far outside.

I looked back up, and the hammer was curling!  Wow, this looked like a legitimate shot! Could it?  Was it?  I couldn’t tell, but the coach from Windy City looked up.  I couldn’t hear it, but I could tell what the lips were saying.  GREAT SHOT.

I kept it cool, calm and collected … as both myself and the other skip went down to the other end of the ice.  I had drawn to the button!  My team won!

I shook hands with the other team, and walked over to the other skip.  “You had an unbelievable shot … that was awesome!” is what I told her.  I’m guessing she was about 10 years old, so she is going to grow up to be an awesome curler.

Myself and the older curlers returned to broomstack, and I just sat back with a big smile on my face.  I didn’t gloat (well, until now.)  I just knew that I would be coming back.  Now, I am curling on the league with Windy City Curling.  Fun times, friendly competition, and I’ll never forget the shot that brings me back.

First Date. Last Night.

“I’m pleased and very scared to be here.”
-Penny Pingleton, Hairspray

First dates are scary. You never know how things are going to go. You hope for the best, brace for the worst, try to keep an open mind, and do everything you can to make a good first impression while hoping the other person does the same. That gamut of emotion is almost exactly how I felt as I walked into Rocket Ice Arena last night to sub in for my first game ever with the Windy City Curling Club.

Flashback: I’ve only been curling for the past three months, and have done so only at two different places around Lake Michigan, neither of them being Windy City Curling. All of the previous clubs I’ve been to I found online, so I kind of felt like my search for a curling club home has been like an adventure in online dating. Google searching led me to my start in Kalamazoo, Michigan. And while the Kalamazoo Curling Club was incredible and had a great group of passionate and dedicated members, a two-hour one-way drive was a bit too far for me to maintain, sadly.

From there I transitioned over to South Bend, Indiana to curl with some of my friends at Notre Dame. Although this was a much better drive, and curling with your pals is always a heck of a lot of fun, the league structure there is more akin to a collegiate style than a traditional club.  It’s weird how much broomstacking really does make the difference in this sport.

The major positive thing about Notre Dame for me was simply being cast in the role of skip for my team. You see, without that club feel to the league, there weren’t any experienced veterans to really help coach us newbies. I had to do a lot of self-teaching about this crazy rock throwing sport of ours by scouring the internet, and even then, everything I found and learned was untested game theory. In my searching, however, I found a fantastic community and resource for help on Reddit.com (r/curling, for those of you familiar with it). It was there in a discussion on league fees that I casually mentioned being close-ish to the Chicago Chicago Club, but the drive was still more than an hour away.

Thinking nothing more of it, a week later I received notification that someone had replied to my comment. This reply simply said the following:

“If you’re anywhere near Bolingbrook, we’d love to have you at Windy City Curling!”

After a quick click on the link, some light reading that turned into reading the entire website, hoping over to the Facebook page and liking it, and – ultimately- a few excited cartwheels later, I began emailing back-and-forth with Matt Galas. It was his friendly and helpful replies to my MANY questions about WCCC (and again – to Matt – sorry for flooding your inbox, dude) that convinced me to give this new club a try. Third club’s the charm, right?

Flash forward: So there I was at 8:30 p.m. on a drizzling Thursday night, less than an hour from home (the closest club I’ve ever found to me), sitting in the parking lot of Rocket Ice Arena, and downright honest-to-God nervous. Earlier in the day, I couldn’t type fast enough to reply to the email I received asking if anyone wanted to sub in for a team, but now that I was actually at the arena, all those dubious and anxiety-creating questions started to creep into my mind. Anyone who has ever joined a new social group of people should know them by heart: “What if I’m terrible at this? What if I embarrass myself? What if no one there likes me?” etc.

But you know what? It took less than an awkward, “Hello, I’m Eric and I think I’m subbing in for one of your teams tonight…?” to have all of those anxieties and fears allayed. From the moment I met Matt (finally in-person!), some other leaders of WCCC (I’m terrible with names, or else I’d give each and every one of you a personal shout-out), and my team for the night, I don’t believe I ever once stopped grinning like an idiot. Every single person at the WCCC that night was incredibly warm and friendly to talk to.

As we waited to take to the ice, I got to know some new faces over a really fun curling-like table top board game called Crokinole. Once we set up the rink and took to the ice, most of the guys put on their best ‘game’ faces, but even those couldn’t completely mask their friendly demeanor. They were all such a blast to play with. I couldn’t believe it when our game was over, it flew by so fast. “Wait, we’re done?” I believe I asked with an evident tinge of sadness.

I looked at the clock on my cell phone: 11:30p.m. Three awesome hours had flown by in the blink of an eye. I was stunned. Post-game conversations quickly followed with talk of shots made and missed, good ends and bad ends, and even talk of where and how to get a kickin’ pair of curling shoes for the newly initiated and addicted (Debbie McCormick at Goldline Curling!).

When I got back to my car, I finally allowed my stupid grin to turn into a full-blown smile. If this is what subbing-in with the Windy City Curling club is like the first time out, I cannot wait until the end of May to see what this summer’s ‘D’ league has in store. (Seriously – I can’t. If any of you need a sub until then, call or email me.) For those of you I’ll be playing with then, see you on the ice! And for those of you reading this that I won’t – change it so that I will. You gotta try this. 🙂

Eric is a guest blogger with a penchant for verbose analogies, musical theater metaphors, long-winded talks on game theory, and geeking out in general.

Windy City Curling on Public Perspective TV

Public Perspective, with host Kevin McDermott, serves up lively conversation each week with intriguing guests from a wide range of backgrounds. The half-hour show covers politics, the economy, business, and social issues with well known public voices and with unsung heroes.

Two of our founders, Jeff & Matt, were guests on the show a few weeks ago discussing curling, the community we are building and how to get involved.

The show is currently airing in the West Chicago market and will be airing throughout June and July in the Elmhurst Comcast market.