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Curling championships sweep into Ham Arena

by Joshua Spaulding
Sports Editor - Granite State News, Carroll County Independent, Meredith News, Gilford Steamer, Winnisquam Echo, Plymouth Record-Enterprise and Baysider

MOUNT WASHINGTON VALLEY Curling Club members (l to r) Pat Kittle, Will Brown and Larry Huemmler sweep a stone toward the house in action Saturday morning. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
June 30, 2014
CONWAY — The cars in the parking lot told part of the story.

License plates from Tennessee, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont were among those mixed with the familiar white and green tags of New Hampshire in the Ham Arena parking lot on Saturday morning.

Inside the arena, players from all over the east coast were moving up and down the ice as the Grand National Curling Club's Arena Championships took place.

Nationally, curling is divided up into different sections and for the east coast, the governing body is the Grand National Curling Club (GNCC) and it features clubs from Florida to Maine and as far west as Pittsburgh, Pa.

Within the GNCC there are two types of curling clubs. There's the clubs that have a dedicated curling facility and there are clubs that share ice space in an arena with figure skating and ice hockey programs. The Mount Washington Valley Curling Club (MWVCC) is one of those teams.

Because a dedicated curling facility gives those teams an advantage (more practice and competition time), the GNCC hosts two different championships, one for dedicated curling clubs and one for arena clubs. All told there are 48 teams in the GNCC region and 20 of those are arena clubs.

Each club was guaranteed one entry into the tournament and to round things out at an even number, a few clubs had multiple teams and the MWVCC had five teams. All told, 16 teams from out of state spent the weekend in the Mount Washington Valley.

"This is our fourth season and I have been working on this event for three years," said bonspiel (tournament) chairman Pete Ellis. "When the GNCC welcomed us as a member, I started working on getting it.

"I originally expected we'd get next year's tournament," he said. "But we got a call last fall asking if we could do it."

The Ham Arena, which had painted four curling sheets on the ice in the previous years, added a fifth starting with this tournament, giving teams plenty of place to play and compete throughout the weekend.

Ellis noted there were three draws on Thursday, four draws on Friday, two draws on Saturday and the finals on Sunday morning. Additionally, a banquet was planned for the Red Jacket Resort in North Conway on Saturday night.

"The Valley has been tremendously supportive," Ellis stated, noting Valley Originals and Settler's Green stepped up as major sponsors and many other businesses and people offered up donated items throughout the weekend as well.

Additionally, Brooms Up, a curling supply company from Connecticut, came on as a sponsor and had a truck in the parking lot of the arena over the weekend.

Sunday's finals also featured a special ceremony, including a bagpiper and players toasting to each other.

"That ceremony is something to see," Ellis noted.

Ellis noted that the MWVCC would be hosting another bonspiel in September, though it would be on a smaller scale than the GNCC event. He's also hoping to host a charity bonspiel at some point in the future as well.

He also noted that putting on a tournament like this took a lot of work from a lot of people and he offered up thanks to the many people who helped get the bonspiel off the ground.

"The volunteers that have come out form the club is what makes it work," Ellis stated. He noted that Kathy Sherman was in charge of hospitality, Pat Kittle secured sponsorship, Keith Force and his 4X4 Studios had cameras in the arena and broadcast the entire tournament online, Paula Jeanne Ellis served as the clerk, while Kirk Saunders was the ice man, making sure the ice was ready to go. Curling ice requires a unique pebbling process. Larry Huemmler also stepped up and Jackson Flicks offered up television technical support.

"Running something like this is the ultimate team sport," Ellis said.

The MWVCC has grown nicely and has also helped to get a club going in Plymouth and some members will be assisting with getting one started in Wolfeboro soon.

"We've trained trainers here, so people can go out and train others," Ellis said. "The more people we've got curling, the better off we'll be. They need to be able to come out and enjoy the sport."

The teams attending the event included Antracite/Bucks 1 and two other Bucks County Pa. teams, two teams from Long island, one team from Atlanta, three Rhode Island teams, one team from Pittsburgh, Pa., two from Rutland, Vt., three from Woodstock, Vt., two from the South Shore of Massachusetts and two from Virginia.

The top MWVCC team included skip Pat Kittle, vice skip Larry Huemmler, second Chris Strahler and lead Will Brown. MWVCC team two included skip Josh McAllister, vice Ron Krieger, second Ron Danforth and lead Kim Steward. MWVCC team three included skip Keith Force, vice Kirk Saunders, second Any Shagoury and lead Paul Cail. The fourth MWVCC team included ski Chris Pollock, vice Gwenn Munroe, second Kathy Sherman and lead Louise Inkell. The fifth MWVCC team included skip Paul Valle, vice George LeBlanc, second Gary Sargent and lead Harry Mueller.

Joshua Spaulding can be reached at 569-3126 or sportsgsn@salmonpress.com

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