A Curling Awakening
Passion, fun drive Ocean State version of Olympic mainstay
After talking to Larry Riccitelli on Sunday morning outside the Bank of America City Center ice rink at Kennedy Plaza in Providence, I instantly regretted every negative thing I’d ever said about the sport of curling.
I’m sure you’ve made fun of it too. Watching curling during the Olympics has always been an invitation to make our friends laugh. The sport looks like a combination of shuffleboard and spring cleaning and the competitors are constantly screaming what sounds like gibberish. To the untrained eye, it’s funny and it looks easy.
It took me about half an hour to rid myself of those preconceptions.
The Ocean State Curling Club, Rhode Island’s only curling organization, put on a demonstration this weekend to try to drum up interest in the sport and its club with the Winter Olympics in full swing. I figured I’d attend, get up close and personal and see if there was anything worthwhile about a sport I knew only from casually watching on TV every four years.
That’s when I met Larry Riccitelli, the man who will be taking over as the club’s third-ever president for current president Gordon Walsh beginning in April. Let me put it this way: Riccitelli is more passionate about curling than I am about anything, and that’s not an indictment of my thirst for life. I think curling just might be that good.
Was he a good salesman? I guess, but there was nothing disingenuous about his pitch. I don’t think he was really even selling me on anything. He just wanted to talk about curling.
And I listened.
I heard about the club itself, which is a non-profit 501(c)(3) charity organization. It’s completely volunteer-run and its home venue is the Cranston Veterans Memorial Ice Rink on Phenix Avenue.
Riccitelli began curling when the Ocean State Curling Club was in its infancy, in 2009. It was founded by Kathy Brady – the club’s first president – and a man named Russ Lemke. They curled at the Cape Cod Curling Club in Falmouth, Mass., and decided to bring the sport to Rhode Island.
Originally, the OSCC curled at St. George’s School in Middletown on the weekends with about 30 members. Larry and his wife Betsy joined the club the first night they heard about it and have been hooked ever since.
Just ask Betsy about her and her husband’s recent trip to Las Vegas and you’ll see how much curling has become a part of their lives in the five years that the club has existed:
“We were going on vacation,” Betsy said. “Get off the plane at 4 o’clock, we’re on the ice at 7, curling in Las Vegas. Everywhere we go on vacation now he tries to find a curling club.”
Everybody involved in the club shares a similar passion. Dick LaChapelle, a Canadian who curls with the club, was sharing curling war stories with Riccitelli, talking about various trips up to Canada and through different parts of the United States taking part in “bonspiels,” which is curling lingo for tournaments.
They talked about a family with four daughters, all of whom are world-class curlers. They mentioned the town of Mount Royal, in Montreal, where there is a massive curling facility in the high school.
Brady, still prominently involved in the club, swept expertly on the ice for the crowd to see while the games progressed.
A man named Mal greeted me when I walked in and systematically explained the intricacies of the game to me, while I watched what he was telling me transpire exactly as he said.
The biggest takeaway I had from the day was that the 70-plus members of the Ocean State Curling Club all love curling, and there’s a reason why.
It’s a great sport. I couldn’t find a single downside, except maybe the cold, but Riccitelli – promoting the game he loved – told me that it’s far from cold when you’re out there on the ice.
It’s easy to learn, and just about anyone can do it. The club allows for members ages 16 and up, and all the equipment is provided. The brooms, the stones – it’s all there. There’s even a wheelchair division up in Cape Cod.
There’s also the social aspect.
“It’s fun,” Betsy said. “It’s enjoyable. There’s strategy involved, you meet a lot of new people. I find that part of it enjoyable too, meeting all the people in the club and learning about everyone.”
The game itself is played between two four-person teams consisting of the skip, the vice-skip, the lead and the second. It’s played with an inning system – called ends – and it takes about two hours to play. There are 16 42-pound rocks thrown per end, with each team pushing eight rocks and each team member pushing two.
The goal is to send the rocks down the 146-foot long ice path and get them close to the center of a drawn-in area at the other end known as the house. The team with the closest rock to the center of the house in each end gets a point.
It’s easy to understand, and easy to start playing.
“You can become an average curler very quickly,” Riccitelli said. “One session, like from October to December, is all it takes to become a competent curler. To be very good it takes a little bit more time and some experience in bonspiels.”
The long-term goal in Rhode Island is to get enough interest to eventually move the club to a dedicated curling facility, which would be used for curling and nothing else. That’s not cheap – and Riccitelli estimates that it would take up to $600,000 to get it done, but it’s feasible. It’s happened in other places around the country, and the benefits are real. It would also open up a new avenue, as kids as young as 5 years old could begin curling.
“We look at it as a community enhancement,” he said. “There’s all positive aspects to the sport. It’s a friendly sport, good exercise and kids can play. If we dedicate a facility, they set up a house halfway down the sheet and the kids play with like 20 pound stones.”
It seems farfetched, but I wouldn’t doubt the members of the club. Riccitelli told me that the oldest written record of curling is chiseled into a stone they found at the bottom of a loch in Scotland in the year 1511. He wants to have a facility dedicated to curling in four of five years.
“It’s been around since the 16th century,” he said with a laugh. “Four years is nothing. We’ll get it done.”
Right now, the winter season at the OSCC is ongoing, but the club will be holding learn to curl events in both March and April. The cost of those is $35, and after taking one of those classes anyone is eligible to join the club for the fall session. Curling takes place on Thursday and Friday nights. Thirty-two people curl each night.
You probably could have predicted this, but when Larry isn’t curling over the next 10 days or so, he’s still going to have the sport on his mind. It’s a big event at the Sochi Olympics, and Larry isn’t planning on missing.
“It’s on CNBC from 5-8 for the next 10 days,” he said without missing a beat.
That’s a man who loves curling. I’m starting to see why.
For more information on the OSCC, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (401) 603-5732. Kevin Pomeroy is the assistant sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and email@example.com.