Popularity of curling grows as region embraces Olympic sport

The Baltimore Sun

Susan Armiger of Severna Park keeps busy with her job as the assistant chief clerk for finance with the Maryland Judiciary. But she found a hobby that enables her to put problems and worries on ice.

Armiger, who took up the sport of curling several years ago, said it has become an escape for her.

She goes to the National Capital Curling Club in Laurel, about 10 minutes from Anne Arundel County, at least twice a week to hone her game.

The sport is building a strong base in the area.

"It's like any other sport," she said. "You can focus totally on it, and you forget about all of your other troubles. You're here to have fun."

Curling is an Olympic sport that has a worldwide following.

The game is a contest between two teams of four players each. Teams take turns pushing a 42-pound stone toward a series of concentric circles on the ice. The players, known as the "lead," "second," "third" and "skip," try to get the stone as close as possible to the center of the circles. The score is determined when all 16 stones have been delivered, and the team with the most points at the end wins.

This past weekend, the Mid-Atlantic Women's Bonspiel -- the curling term for tournament -- took place in Laurel. It was a four-day event that brought women from different parts of the country, with the competition split into different divisions.

Armiger spent more of her time behind the scenes in this tournament, serving food on Saturday afternoon and watching other curlers. She filled in as a substitute a few times but said she just enjoyed being there.

"There's a lot of camaraderie and a lot of laughing," she said. "We're here to have fun."

There are four areas to compete in Laurel -- each of which looks like a bowling alley on ice. A large television was broadcasting the Army-Navy football game Saturday in the back corner of the club, but not many people seemed to notice. Most watched the curlers on the ice.

Nicole Freedman, who ran the tournament, said that people have fun with curling but that in a competition, most want to show their stuff.

"When you go to the competition, you kind of want to bring your game up a little bit and see how you do against people from other clubs," said Freedman, who lives in Mount Airy. "It's one of those games that's really easy to learn but takes years to master."

Kathleen Harlow said she enjoys trying to master curling and loves to test her skills in competitions. She flew into Baltimore last Friday in time to play in a game that night. She was scheduled to head back to Fort Worth, Texas, on Sunday.

Harlow considered it time well spent.

"I love curling -- it's my life," Harlow said. "We try to curl at a tournament every weekend if we can. We curl on hockey nights in Texas, and it's a real challenge."

Harlow, who wore a gray "Don't Mess With Texas" T-shirt, used to live in this area. She said the opening of this facility added to the popularity of the sport in the region.

"This is a gorgeous facility," she said. "You would never have so many curlers without this facility. This type of ice has to be much harder than hockey ice. It's so much better than hockey ice."

Harlow wasn't the only curler who came a long way for last weekend's competition -- women came in from Niagara Falls and other places up and down the East Coast. But that kind of traveling isn't uncommon for the curlers.

Armiger has been as far away as Quebec and Minnesota. Severna Park's Joan Twigg competed in Canada three times last year, in the Midwest and in upstate New York. She's waiting for word on whether her team has been approved to play in the United States Women's Curling Association's 60th Bonspiel in Duluth, Minn.

Curling has grown into something special for women like Twigg and Armiger.

Both come to practice a few times a week, often staying until 10 p.m. or later. Twigg, who works as a nurse at Fort Meade, said she'll look for any excuse to curl.

"I spend a lot of my time here, and I just love curling," she said. "It's a wonderful place. There's a lot of fun curling. ...What more can I say?"

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