My apologies for taking too a while to blog over the holidays. I was busy - mostly putting together the endless piles of lego and Playmobile that my kids received for Christmas. Below is the Lego Ninja Fire Temple, and my son.
As a result, I am now a Lego God. I am thinking of adding a Lego room in my house. No I don't mean I am going to designate a room to store toys, I am actually going to build an extension on my house out of Lego. I think it would be awesome. Now I only need to find the instructions.
Let the Second Season begin.
This weekend I start the process of trying to reach the Brier. Western Quebec Regional playdowns start Friday at Glenmore Curling Club, and conclude Sunday Afternoon.
For those unfamiliar with how competitive curling works – there are really 2 seasons:
· Season 1: Cash Season: where the teams play each other in tournaments trying to win money. Finishing in 2nd a 3rd place here is good – as you still win a fair amount of money.
· Season 2: Playdown Season: Where everyone tries to win one big prize: A trip to the Brier. There is no 2nd place.
There is actually a 3rd season - Team Change Season, which officially starts 1 minute after your team has been eliminated from Season 2, or sometimes even before. However, very little curling actually happens during season 3.
I love the Playdown process. When I started in competitive men’s curling in Montreal back in the early 90’s, playdowns used to consist of 80 or so teams playing down to send 3 or 4 teams to Provincials in a triple knockout. EIGHTY teams – just in Montreal.
I won the Montreal A qualifier in 1994 (I think) by winning SEVEN games in a row. Seven! To qualify through the C-section, Montreal teams usually had to play 12 or 13 games, over 9 or 10 days, in 9 or 10 different clubs. Playdowns were an insane test of curling and endurance. And I loved it. It was crazy, it was draining, but man it was fun.
But the playdowns are not what they used to be. This weekend, 12 teams will compete to send 4 to provincials to represent Western Quebec. In Eastern Quebec, 8 teams will play to send another 4 teams. (4 teams are already qualified through points: Menard, Reid, Desjardins and Ferland). So in the entire province, 24 teams are attempting to qualify to go to the Brier. Fifteen years ago, this number was well over a hundred. (Make no mistake - having fewer teams does not make it easier - all 12 teams are tough - there is no such thing as an easy game in playdowns).
This is not only a Quebec phenomenon. Other provinces are seeing similar declines in competitive participation. Women’s Curling is even more of a tragic tale. Curling Quebec will struggle to find eight women’s teams to play in provincials this year.
So why the decline? Where has everybody gone? Why does competitive curling appear to be in such decline?
The answer is not simple. In theory, curling should be benefitting from increased TV exposure and Olympic coverage. I also do not believe that participation levels in curling have declined as rapidly as the number of teams playing competitively.
I have 2 theories to explain the decline:
Theory 1: The good teams are too good
The fact is that there are only 5 or 6 teams that could conceivably win the province. So why should anyone else even try? So why would anyone take a week off of work to go to Quebec provincials in order to fill out the field, or waste $300 to play 3 or 4 games in the Regionals?
I hear this from a lot of teams as their excuse for not playing in playdowns, but to be honest – the same was true 20 years ago, and yet over a hundred teams tried out. Admittedly, it used to cost $100 to play in regionals, but I am not convinced that dropping the price would increase participation.
Theory 2: Demographics:
Curling is getting older. The last 20 years have seen an exodus of people in their 20s and 30s from the game. Clubs have done a poor job of keeping junior curling alive, and in integrating juniors into adult curling once they grow up. Also, it is just not easy for people in their 20’s and 30’s to curl. We all have jobs, and mortgages, and kids, and whatever - that make it impractical to commit to curling competitively.
Participation is still high in Seniors curling in Quebec and Canada.
So what do we need to do?
1. To deal with Theory 1: The Club Series: Curling Quebec has actually taken a very intelligent approach to this problem. They are spending a lot of time and $$$ supporting “Club Series” events, aimed at providing Club-level curlers with competitions where they have a chance of winning. The Dominion has created a National Championship for Club Curlers, and word is spreading about just how good thsi event is.
2. To Deal with theory 2: Rebuild the base: Support junior curling. And not only competitive junior curling. Junior curling needs to be fun, and not only for the 1 team per club playing competitively. Clubs need to be social clubs for juniors, more than just another activity that they play between 9-11 Saturday mornings. If your Club does not have a solid junior program – then shame on you. A lot of clubs have a difficult time finding volounteers to run a junior program. If this is the case - then hire poeple. Hire kids who are just out of juniors -who can animate and teach the younger kids.
As I have said before - curling is in danger of becoming like the luge - a quirky Olympic sport that only a few weird people actually try.
Quebec Junior Provincials:
Quebec Junior Provincials are going on this weekend in balmy Val d’Or (temperature at 8PM last night: minus 26).
In case you are not up on your Quebec geography, Val d’Or is located about a few hours North of, well nowhere. It is a few kilometres South of Santa’s North Pole toy production facility. Fortunately, elves who are not qualified as toymakers for Santa can find employment working as miners in Val d’Or’s open-pit gold mines (see below), or as hunting and fishing guides.
Boys: Felix Asselin from Glenmore, Jean-Benoit Milot and Jeff Stewart from Valleyfield – who should have won last year.
Girls: Roxanne Perron from Quebec, and possibly Allison and L isaDavies from Glenmore. Lisa plays in the Glenmore ladder with Tom Wharry, so she has learned how to drink Labatt 50 and to how to win curling games. Both will serve her well.