Clean sweep: passion for curling moves Portland club forward

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PORTLAND — It was trivia night at Salvage BBQ on Congress Street, and members of the Pine Tree Curling Club were gearing up for the final match of their inaugural season on Feb. 28 over beer, pulled pork, and macaroni and cheese.

Derek Campbell, president of the club and Portland native, said he began curling in 2011 when he and his wife were living in Seattle. When they moved back from the west coast, curling became a void in their lives. So Campbell decided to start his own team.

“It seemed like something Portland needed to have,” Campbell said.

Curling, a sport dating back to medieval Scotland, involves players sliding a 44-pound stone down a length of ice towards a target, with others sweeping the ice to adjust the stone’s trajectory. PTC plays at the Troubh Ice Arena on Park Avenue.

Campbell said he reached out to other curling clubs in New England, and word spread from there. Experienced curlers responded, and novices signed up for learn-to-curl sessions Campbell set up. Today, the club has 54 members.

“It’s going better than I could have imagined,” he said.

The club is hosting four more learn-to-curl sessions throughout March and April, for three-hours each on a Saturday. However, those sessions have already been mostly filled with people who were on a wait list last year. Campbell said there were fewer than 20 spots left. Anyone interested can find more information on the club’s website, pinetreecurlingclub.com.

Those who don’t sign up for the sessions in time can go on a waiting list. However, Campbell said the list for last year’s session reached 200 people. Last year, he said some other New England clubs came to help with the sessions. This year, PTC is running the show solo.

“I was confident that if we could get the word out, people would want to do it,” Campbell said.

What draws people into the sport, members said, is not the drive for fierce competition, but rather something based more on camaraderie. Team member David Fletcher said curling is not overly competitive. Teammates typically gather after the game for drinks, Fletcher said, just like some members did before the match at Salvage.

“It’s a very social game,” he said.

Fletcher, who is almost 70, said he picked up curling when he was in his late 50s and living in Calais. He had friends who played in a club across the river in Canada, which got him into it.

“It’s a life sport,” Fletcher said.

Campbell said players can be any age or of any athletic ability to curl; it is very accessible and there is no pressure surrounding the game. Competitions are completely friendly, and scores are “mainly kept for posterity.”

“The spirit of curling is to instruct … help build the sport and make sure everyone is having fun,” he said.

The club’s inaugural season was 16 weeks and included 10 teams, though Campbell said the club plans to expand the season to a 20 weeks with even more teams.

PTC is Maine’s second curling club. The first was established in Belfast. There are also a number of clubs across New England in Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire.

“Most of those are in towns smaller than Portland,” Campbell said.

Club member Ben Duffy said he lived in the Belfast area when he heard about the curling club. Duffy said he loves the technical aspect of the game, and even called curling “deeper than chess.”

“On good ice the level of complexity is pretty substantial,” he said.

Fletcher, while standing in the stands at Troubh, also said there is a high level of complexity to curling. He said while it may look boring to those watching it on television, in person it is a fascinating game that “keeps your mind going.” He said players always think two to three shots ahead, that it’s much more than just pushing a rock down the ice.

“Deciding when to sweep and how hard is part of the art,” he said.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Kevin Kierstead of the Pine Tree Curling Club delivers a stone during the last match of the season on Wednesday, Feb. 24 at Troubh Ice Arena in Portland. (Dan D’Ippolito / For The Forecaster)Members of the Pine Tree Curling Club pitch in to carry stones off the sheet following the last match of the season on Wednesday, Feb. 24 at Troubh Ice Arena in Portland. (Dan D’Ippolito / For The Forecaster)Donald Newbegin, left, and Shaun McKinnon sweep during their final match of the season as Zoram Blancas-Ruiz, back left, and Ben Duffy look on. (Dan D’Ippolito / For The Forecaster)Jen Campbell of the Pine Tree Curling Club at the club’s final game of its inaugural season. (Dan D’Ippolito / For The Forecaster)Carolyn Fullerton of the Pine Tree Curling Club looks on as her teammate Chris Qualey sweeps during the last match of the season on Wednesday, Feb. 24 at Troubh Ice Arena in Portland. (Dan D’Ippolito / For The Forecaster)Pine Tree Curling Club President Derek Campbell addresses team members prior to the club’s last match of the season on Wednesday, Feb. 24 at Troubh Ice Arena in Portland. (Dan D’Ippolito / For The Forecaster)Members of the Pine Tree Curling Club sweep with their all during the last match of the season on Wednesday, Feb. 24 at Troubh Ice Arena in Portland. (Dan D’Ippolito / For The Forecaster)

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.