By David Driver
9:17 AM EST, February 6, 2014
Dominique Banville was on the ice at the National Capital Curling Center, and she shouted encouragement to three young women who were new to the sport of curling.
"Hips back! Push! Go! Sweep it hard!" Banville shouted Saturday night at The Gardens Ice House in West Laurel.
On a night when many of their peers may be at the movies or trying to stay warm, several 20-somethings and others tried their hand at curling for the first time with the Potomac Curling Club at their home base at the National Capital Curling Center, located at The Gardens Ice House off Old Gunpowder Road.
Alison Gregor, 21, made the trek to Laurel from northern Virginia to learn some of the basics of the sport from Banville, who grew up in Canada and is a professor at George Mason University in the College of Education and Human Development.
Banville has been a curler for several years and helped teach the sport to the newcomers Saturday night.
"It is really cool. It is a really unique experience," said Gregor, 21, a biology senior student at James Madison University.
Gregor decided to come along with two of her friends: Katie Harris, 25, and Kathryn Berlin, 22. Saturday was Berlin's birthday and she wanted to do something different to celebrate. The three friends learned about the event from Berlin's mother, who also works at George Mason.
So what was the hardest part of the session Saturday?
"Besides keeping a straight face? It is hard not to hit the stone when you are sweeping," said Harris, 26, who ran track in high school and at George Mason University.
Curling, referred to as "chess on ice," traces its roots to Scotland in the 1600s and became an Olympic sport in 1924.
Teams sweep in front of the rock as it heads toward its target. Players slide stones across the ice toward a target, which is also referred to as a "house." Each team has eight stones and four players, and points are awarded for stones that stop closest to the center of the house. Two players per team sweep the ice in front of the stone as it glides toward the target.
This is the time of year — actually the time of every fourth year — when the Potomac Curling Club gets flooded with interest. So is it safe to say the Winter Olympics, which begin Feb. 7 in Russia, helps to spike that interest?
"It is very safe to say that," noted Pete Morelewicz, 40, a long-time club member. "For comparison we got about 50 people at our last open house in October. We are expecting 800 when we have our two open houses in February, on the 8th and 16th. [The Olympics] is the best advertisement."
There will be 10 teams of men and women at the Sochi Olympics. Canada, Norway and Switzerland were the top three men's teams at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and Sweden, Canada and China took gold, silver and bronze (in that order) among men in 2010. The Canadian women have won a medal in every Olympics since 1988 and the Canadian men have three gold, three silver and two bronze in the past eight Winter Games.
Club president Linda Murphy said the challenge after the two open houses this month will be to keep newcomers interested in the sport. The club shuts down during the summer months and starts up again in October.
"If they are not good at it then nine times out of 10 they are not going to come back" in the fall, said Murphy, a resident of Ellicott City.
Scott Houston, 26, another first-timer on Saturday night, said he would be interested in trying the sport again, though the distance from his home in Northern Virginia is an obstacle.
Houston said if he wasn't curling Saturday night he "would probably be sitting at home. This is a nice alternative.
"It is harder than it looks. People watching on TV probably think it is easy. I am sure I will be sore in muscles I didn't know I had tomorrow."
The Potomac Curling Club, 13810 Old Gunpowder Road, will hold open houses on Feb. 8, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Feb. 16, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fee is $10 each, $20 per family, which includes equipment rental and instruction. Dress warmly, wear soft-soled shoes. For ages 5 and up. Register at curldc.org.
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